Touching video shows special needs child interacting with her first friend

HOUSTON – A touching video of a KPRC 2 staffer’s daughter with special needs interacting with her first friend is spreading online.

Shannon Sommers, an associate producer at KPRC 2, posted the video of her 11-year-old daughter Carly Jade and her friend, Zoe Damborsky, interacting last weekend at Chuck E. Cheese’s.

The gathering was a playdate Sommers and Zoe’s mom, Rhonda Babina-Pradervand, set up to give the duo time to hang out outside of school.

Carly, a sixth-grader at Creekwood Middle School in Kingwood, is non-verbal. Carly met Zoe, who is in seventh grade, during classroom visits designed to facilitate inclusion among students.

“Carly can’t tell me what her day is like after school, so her teacher writes notes about her day, and so we’ll read them back to Carly, and whenever we would mention Zoe’s name, Carly would get really excited. So I’m like, who is this Zoe?” Sommers said.

“I asked the teacher if she could connect us to Zoe’s parents,” Sommers explained. “So she connected us, and I talked to Zoe’s mom, we set up a play date. So Jason and I and Carly and her little sister Lexi -- we all went to Chuck E. Cheese’s, and I looked at Zoe (there), and it was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, she has a friend.’”

That’s when Sommers got out her phone and captured their interaction.

“Carly reacts so well (to Zoe). It’s hard for (Carly) to hold her head up sometimes…and she’s uncomfortable sometimes because she doesn’t know her surroundings, and she held her head up high with (Zoe) and she responds to Zoe, because Zoe respects her and she feels that. She’s not awkward in front of her. She listens. She watches, and she imitates her so that she knows she is understanding what she’s saying and that takes – that’s hard for me to do sometimes. And to watch someone who literally was blessed into our lives, who just knows how to do it, is just amazing. I don’t even know. I prayed.”

Sommers posted this message on Facebook with the video: “We share this video to show everyone just how important it is to treat everyone equal, and how it captures what words cannot describe.”

Sommers said she had mixed emotions about posting the video. “I felt happy, but I felt sad, too. … I didn’t know if I should put it out there, but at the same time I wanted to use it as a tool to show what (interacting) can do.… Like don’t block them out. Carly has never been invited to a birthday party and she’s never had a friend come to our house and stuff, so it’s challenging.”

Carly was born with hydrocephalus or water on the brain, and with that came epilepsy and an eye condition called nystagmus, according to her mother. Despite these medical conditions, Carly is very attuned to people in social settings.

“She understands when people are upset,” Sommers explained. “She knows if something is wrong. And the hardest part for me is when I don’t like thinking someone is talking about her or making fun of her and she’s there and she can’t come home and tell me. So I feel like Zoe is kind of her security guard or filter for people. … They’ll be lifelong friends. I feel like Zoe’s always going to be a part of her life. She’s heaven-sent.”

The post has more than 5,000 views on Facebook, and has been shared many times across social media platforms.

Sommers said the response to the video has been positive. “With Carly it’s amazing,” she said. “It shows that people care, and that people are watching and looking, and hopefully learning a lesson from two little girls.”

As for Zoe, Sommers said she recently thanked the girl for going with her family on the outing, but Zoe told her it was a privilege to be there.

“She’s just – there’s no ‘Carly’s different,’” Sommers said. “She’s the same in her eyes, and that’s just what is so amazing. That’s why I think people are just like, ‘Wow.’ Like, it’s that simple. It’s that simple, and yet, everybody wants to make it hard, including me.”

“I’m the worst at it,” Sommers said. “Just worrying all the time, trying to include her with everything, and then it might not be that difficult. It’s a lesson for me, too. Just let it be. … I hope that people will take away from it, the next time that they see someone with a special need or just different – or anything, that they remember that little video and think, ‘Oh yeah, it’s cool.’”

About the Author: