479. Jimmy

Once in a while, I try to imagine what’s going on in a particular child’s mind. Today I thought about a child whom we’ll call Jimmy. Jimmy is slow. He’s a third grader who doesn’t really know all of the letters of the alphabet yet, and there are many other things most third graders know and Jimmy doesn’t. To me, it looks as if the one thing Jimmy would most like to know is how to make friends. He’s nice, but being nice isn’t enough. The other third graders know they’re not allowed to make fun of Jimmy or exclude him, but you can’t legislate friendship. Jimmy has not yet become close friends with any third graders. The main way to do that, it seems, is to play basketball.
It’s hard to be someone who seems to think, learn, and behave like a five- year-old when you’re nine years old, and so is everyone around you. In class, the teacher tries to help you develop knowledge and skills, and to
protect you from insensitive comments. The teacher may work hard to make sure you’re included whenever you want to be. Some of the children may try hard, too; most children know the pain of being left out, and they
don’t want to cause that kind of pain.
What is Jimmy thinking? How do this teacher and these children look to him? He may not have developed the social skills he needs if he wants to be invited to parties, neighborhood games, and the like, but when he’s not invited, I think he knows what he’s missing, and I think it hurts him. I think he knows that adults are trying hard to help him fit in. He knows some children are trying, too. And I think he wonders what’s wrong with him – why everyone has to try so hard.
Out at recess, a lot of kids play basketball. Jimmy doesn’t really understand basketball. He knows you’re supposed to try to get the ball into the basket, but how are you supposed to do that when everybody is bouncing the ball and running around? If they would stay still, give him the ball, and let him try a few times, he might be able to get it in. But as you probably know, that’s not the way the game is played. Jimmy gives up after a few minutes and goes off by himself.
What are the other children thinking? Maybe some wish Jimmy were somewhere else; basketball is challenging enough without having to drag along someone who doesn’t even know how to play. Other children may wish they could figure out how to include Jimmy without sacrificing the quality of the game. Along comes an adult. There’s a silent (or not so silent) groan among the children. Here it comes, they think. We’re going to be told to make sure Jimmy is included. We don’t want to be mean, but if we have to make sure Jimmy plays, we’re not going to have as much fun. And this is recess! We’re supposed to be having fun!
That’s right. They are supposed to be having fun. But wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to make sure Jimmy could have fun, too?

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