Would you rather have 100 casual acquaintances or one special friend?
It’s a no-brainer, right? We all long to have someone special in our lives. But that can be tricky when the world only sees your disabilities.
Ciera Ball is mostly nonverbal, was diagnosed with autism and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That can be a tough combination when forming attachments and making new friends.
Dawn Bolstad, a teacher at Fargo North High School, sees that difficulty often in her special education classroom. That’s why she was so touched watching the friendship develop between her student, Ciera, and the classroom paraprofessional, Heather Disrud.
“When Heather became a para in my classroom at North High School, Ciera knew immediately they were kindred spirits. Ciera, now 22, has a passion for music and can tonally re-create, with instrumental solos and syncopation. Heather and Ciera commandeered the classroom laptop and speaker, and never let it go!
"Heather would shout out, ‘Besties!’ and Ciera would lean in for a ‘selfie.’ There was no question who was Ciera's favorite para, and no question of Heather's dedication to Ciera. These young women were, for all intents and purposes, very best friends.”
Ciera graduated from Fargo North with an adaptive diploma. That was the first time Ciera’s mom and dad truly realized the depth of friendship.
Ciera’s dad, Randy, says, “I didn't realize how close they were until Ciera's graduation. Heather sat with her through the ceremony and walked with her to get her diploma.
"Later, on Facebook, Heather posted, ‘Today I had the honor and the privilege of walking with someone who had become a best friend to me across the stage to get her diploma. It was of course a bittersweet moment that I will forever cherish. Ciera, I am so proud of you and I feel so blessed to have gotten the opportunity to bond with you this school year.’
"I realized then how much my daughter meant to this young lady. I reached out to Heather not long after graduation and invited her over to hang out with Ciera. She was happy for the invite and has been seeing Ciera on a weekly basis. Heather takes her out in the community, and has even brought her along for football watching parties. It is truly a joy to see my daughter’s face light up when I tell her that Heather is coming to see her."
Ciera’s mom, Kendra, says, “Somehow these two have defined a relationship that is truly beyond logic. There is a language that is just between them.
"Heather has a kindness and calm that is very comforting to Ciera. She meets Ciera where she needs to be met, doesn't baby her and yet is just the right level of softness when she needs to be. Ciera is our only child. I have cried myself to sleep one too many times worrying about her future.
"But hope is a funny thing. On hard days it can be tough to find. Then all of a sudden, God shows himself through someone who has her own challenges in life, named Heather, and you once again find yourself hopeful.”
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at email@example.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips, a former Fargo television anchor, is a speaker, author and host of The Kindness Podcast. She lives in Athens, Ohio, with her three children and her husband, Ohio University Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.