Watching a child struggle to make friends may be the hardest thing you ever do as a parent. Karen Adams, a mother of a 7-year-old girl with autism, showed us just how tough this struggle can be when her daughter’s touching wish list went viral.
Adams first posted her daughter Molly-Raine’s letter, written as a homework assignment, on Reddit. According to Adams, Molly-Raine was asked what qualities she would like in a friend, and she wrote this in response:
Monday, 12 September
Someone who …
- Understands me
- Knows I have autism
- Smiles all the time
- Keeps me company when I am sad
Adams says Molly-Raine wanted her to share the letter on Reddit “because someone might read it and tell their child about autism.”
Maybe it’s the honesty, maybe it’s the innocence, or maybe it’s because most of us have been there at least once before, but Molly-Raine’s heartfelt list is making waves on the Internet. Her letter has special importance for adults with autism and parents of children with autism, who can identify with Adams’ struggle of watching a child try to fit in with a “hidden disability.”
As one Redditor wrote in response to the original post:
“I wish I knew I had autism at that age. Not only would have it helped me to understand why I was treated so differently than the other children, but I also would never have felt like my life before knowing was a lie.”
On top of thousands of offers to be Molly-Raine’s friend, another commenter wrote on Facebook:
“Until children and adults with autism are accepted and valued in their own communities, there will be lots of sweet lonely people.”
With 1 percent of the global population on the autism spectrum, most parents today have at least some personal experience with a child with autism, whether it’s at school or in their own family. But as common as it may be, we’re not hearing messages of inclusion. We’re seeing heartbreaking viral letters like Molly-Raine’s, alongside even more tragic stories of children with autism being treated like second-class citizens. In the past year, a kindergartner with autism was forgotten on the school bus and suffered from hypothermia, and a few months later, a teen with autism was found dead on the school bus after he had been left there all day.
And when a child with autism is included by being invited to a class birthday party, it makes the news.
Let’s put it this way — every time we hear a story about a bully terrorizing a kid at school, we blame it on the parent: “They must have learned it at home.” While children with autism and other disabilities are often bullied, most of the time, they’re just being ignored. And the kids who are ignoring them and leaving them out? They must have learned this at home, too.
Molly-Raine’s letter is beautiful because it is oh-so-relatable, and it’s also a message every parent needs to hear. If your child happens to be neurotypical, then this letter is a huge wake-up call that should impact how you teach your kids to interact with other children.
Adams told Babble:
“My daughter finds it harder than most children to fit in. It’s harder for her to socialize, she can’t attend birthday parties due to sensory issues, and she struggles to understand the dynamics and social cues of children playing in the playground. To her, it’s confusing and causes a lot of anxiety, so it’s easier for her to avoid social situations, which cause her stress. But it doesn’t mean she wants friendship any less than a neurotypical child. In fact, it makes her yearn for it even more!”
Talking to our kids about common kindness and including others isn’t hard. In fact, it’s a critical life lesson: showing empathy. That’s it. And it’s something our kids should be learning at home, anyway. As Adams says of Molly-Raine, “All she wants is a friend who just gets it.”