Talkin’ Bout My Best Buddy
Children with disabilities developing meaningful friendships thanks to Florida organization
Children and teens with special needs often struggle to fit in socially.
Joe McGhee of Jacksonville, Fla., knows because his 17-year-old son, Jared, who has autism, longed to fit in.
“He became more socially well-adjusted in school after he was paired with his Buddies,” says Joe. “His Buddy, Todd, spends time with him. And he has a better time at school having a friend to do stuff with and pal around with at lunch and other events.”
Jared has benefited from his association with Best Buddies, an organization that assists people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The organization helped him cultivate friendships, learn how to conduct job searches and perfect communication skills.
Best Buddies International, founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, serves people with Down Syndrome, autism, Fragile X, Williams Syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and other undiagnosed disabilities.
Erika Hatch, area director for Best Buddies in Jacksonville, Fla., says the organization pairs students with and without disabilities at the beginning of the school year so the friendship has time to develop.
“We also do an assessment of the students’ likes and needs to pair them up. Friendships start to form and many wind up being friends for life,” she says. “The students sometimes have lunch together and text or call each other during the week.”
“Best Buddies has given my son the confidence to learn to speak up during group situations and attend dance socials with Todd, and other Best Buddies,” McGhee says. “Best Buddies also encourages Jared to have more one-on-one relationships with his peers. They host various events throughout the year that allow Jared and his Buddies to have fun at gatherings and on friendship walks.”
Todd, a junior in high school, comes to the McGhee’s home to hang out and play video games with Jared, who is a senior. The two attend the same high school and have been buddies for three years.
“I think the staff at Best Buddies really cares for all the participants and volunteers,” McGhee adds. “They’re always looking for folks to be Best Buddies.”
He, too, is active in the organization, both as a parent and as a State Farm® agent.
Best Buddies hosts a major fund-raiser called Best Buddies Night of Champions. Supporters sponsor a table and encourage others to attend the celebration.
McGhee says Best Buddies has changed his son.
“Jared has become more socially well-adjusted and verbal since connecting with Best Buddies,” he says. “I’m proud of him and the progress he has made.”