A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

The ability to make friends is one of the most important skills for those with special needs and for their families. But to do this, we had better understand friendship more deeply than some of our neighbors. Friendship can seem to be about doing things together. That’s why it can be easy to make friends at camp or at college, where you’re spending time together and doing the same activities. In contrast, it can be hard to make friends when someone in your family has disabilities. Dealing with special needs can isolate you.

You can feel left out when other family’s children are going to the same parties and playing on the same teams. Even when your family tries to be involved, the effort may just demonstrate how different you are (and people don’t find it easy to deal with “different.”) If there’s even a hint that your family might need help, then only the bravest will respond to your attempts to reach out to be friends with them.

You may find it easier to form friendships with other families dealing with similar special needs. These families share the same concerns that you have and may do many of the same activities.

Be careful that you don’t end up in a little community of special needs families, telling yourself that the people on the outside will never understand.

Although we do need to have friends, our cultural definition of friendship is far too narrow. According to that cultural definition, a friend is someone that you can do things with. When it becomes inconvenient or less fun, you trade that friend in for a new one. Friends who are easily made are just as easily left behind. When the team disbands or the parties stop, your “friends” will soon wander off elsewhere.

This shallow type of friendship won’t meet anyone’s real needs. And families like ours, who have faced serious issues, shouldn’t be fooled by the superficial. It is that friend who understands and remains faithful in hard times who is of significant worth! The value of our lives is never determined by the number of friends that we have; there is greater value in one friend who knows all about us. Rather than spin our wheels striving to keep many friends, we should take the time to cultivate sincere and valuable friendships that are really worth having.

There are significant steps that we can take to build friendships. We can reach out to people. We can pray with them. We can be there when they are in need and make time to do things together. Above all, it’s important to petition God for help, that we can be and have real friends.