Evening of Recognition, May 2012
Good evening. Thank you all so much for giving me the opportunity to speak to you about what my family has learned from circle of friends.
A quick bit of background about our family and what brought us to become a part of the Circle. My husband, Ira, and I live in Weston and have three children. Our daughter, Jessica, is 8, and we have two sons, Dwight, who is 7 and Patton, who is 5. Patton was diagnosed about three years ago at the age of two with autism spectrum disorder.
One dimension of his disability is how learning to make friends and keep friends is extremely difficult for Patton. Yet teaching the skills necessary to make and keep friends has a significant lifelong impact for people with autism. From a therapeutic standpoint, having friends can buffer the impact of stressful events, correlates positively with self-esteem and negatively with anxious and depressive symptoms. Our family was faced with a paradoxical challenge. We desperately wanted to promote Patton’s social development, yet the opportunities in which these activities typically take place present many challenges for Patton.
It was suggested that I contact Frieda to discuss a potential relationship for Patton.
My husband and I were looking for a friend who would be extremely patient and easygoing and someone that we knew would devote the time and attention to develop a true friendship and consistently act as a positive role model for our son. We were introduced to Jillian Pecoreillo who immediately fell in love with Patton (of course we knew that would happen) and we are proud to say Jillian and Patton have been having weekly playdates for over three years. So began the incredibly challenging journey to true friendship for Patton which we are proud to say he has conquered beautifully.
In Jillian, Patton sees a playmate, someone to go to the backyard and run around with him, play with his buses and trains, and of course give him lots of tickles.
This friendship has lasted about three years and we are going to miss Jillian terribly when she goes off to college in the fall, but we know that she will be back to visit and the friendship will endure. A little over a year ago we recruited Faizaan Siddiqui as another friend for Patton and we are proud to say they both look forward to their time together with lots of chases around the backyard.
When I originally thought about what I would share tonight with you, it was about our family’s life with autism, and our lifelong journey to recovery for Patton. Tonight is not about autism and it’s not about our autism.
Tonight is about celebrating friendship without any boundaries and how Rabbi Hecht and Frieda galvanized our community to give their volunteers the tools to give selflessly. I am inspired by our volunteers dedication to the mission of the circle of friends and I know that you all walk away tonight with a bigger heart than the one you came in the circle with.
A few weeks ago the Weston schools had a half day of school due to parent teacher conferences. All three of our kids had playdates for the afternoon. Dwight had a few boys over and one of the moms came to pick up her son. At that moment, Jillian came by for her playdate with Patton. Patton waited downstairs for Jillian and greeted Jillian with a huge smile and hello and ran upstairs to get started on his playdate with Jillian running after him. The mom was struck “that’s pattons playdate?” she asked. “I thought she’d be littler”.
This was exactly the defining moment of why we were attracted to the circle of friends and why we are involved still. There are no boundaries to circle of friends bonds. In developing friendships, Patton and his friends pushed all boundaries that typically define this relationship. Clearly there were differences between Patton and his friends. Moving outside these social boundaries is what defines real friendship.
Circle of friends has taught me to expand my understanding of friendship and the value of developing relationships without a broader social norm context or a normative boundary.
We are so grateful to our visionaries, Rabbi Hecht and Frieda, for their endless commitment to improving the lives of our kids and humanizing our community with circle of friends. We are honored to be a part of this organization and look forward to sharing many more happy times together. Thank you.