Other parents of children with Down syndrome have told me how their child talks to him–or herself. This seems to be a common trend. In Kirstin’s case, she perfected it to an art form. Not only did she have an imaginary friend to talk to, she had an entire family she called “the group.” At one time, I believe there were seven members of her group. She carried on conversations with them, shared food with them, and took them everywhere she went. Going in her bedroom, she would hold the door open until everyone was in. Then, through the door, we would hear talking from many different voices. She never gave us much information about who these friends were. I did get a few names: Harry, Little Terry, and Big Terry. I was somewhat concerned about Harry when I learned that he had horns. But Kirstin assured me he was a good guy.
In a way, it seemed convenient that Kirstin always had friends. Her brother, Michael, is four years older chronologically, but if you consider maturity, there is an even greater age difference. Besides, being a boy, he had totally different interests from Kirstin. She was always busy with her own activities, happy with what she was doing, and never really alone because she had her group. It did cause her problems at school, when she would get so busy with her imaginary friends that she forgot to pay attention. More than once her teachers sent reports about Kirstin doing her own thing instead of what she was supposed to be doing. Eventually, she would do her work but in her own good time. One report read, “Kirstin is eager to please for most of her work. Sometimes she still continues to use her time for her ‘club’ activities. I insist she do her work, she gets mad and then does what I ask and usually does it well.”
Kirstin was approaching her twelfth birthday, and it seemed like a good idea for her to stop having imaginary friends. She would be going to middle school, and the kids might make fun of her. Besides, she needed to face reality. After a serious discussion about the group, Kirstin agreed that by her twelfth birthday, they would be gone. And it seemed that she was true to her word.
It was a few months after Kirstin turned twelve that we were shopping in a fabric store. Kirstin was looking at the racks of fabric and talking incessantly to someone who wasn’t really there. I reminded her that she promised her group would go away.
“They did,” she told me, “but they’re here shopping with their mom.”
Today in private places like the bathroom, Kirstin can he overheard talking to someone, and I’ve watched her at work, whispering under her breath. She claims to have no memory of her imaginary friends, but I guess we’ll never know.
Kirstin’s side of the story: I remember my imaginary friends a little, but I remember my real friends a lot more. At times I do talk to myself like other people do.
From This Little Light of Mine, a woman with Down syndrome shines brightly in the world, Chapter 4 “Living with Bratinella.” This book is available at amazon