Inclusion & Friendships
The Importance and Meaning of Friendships
When you think about what is important to you, your friends are probably near the top of the list. You’re there for each other, you have fun together, and occasionally you get in trouble together. What would you do without your friends? Life would be boring! You are at a point in your life where friendships are more important than ever. There are things on your mind and things going on in your life that you need to talk about, but sometimes discussing those things with your parents is uncomfortable. Your friends are the ones in whom you often confide. And they confide in you as well. Now, more than ever, you lean on your friends.
Everyone feels lonely sometimes, but imagine if you felt that way most of the time. You would probably experience many things differently. Whom could you talk to about someone you would like to date, where you might want to go to college, job hunting, and disagreements with your parents and siblings? And if you really did not have friends, you might spend less time thinking about what to wear to a party and more time thinking about whether you would even be invited.
Imagine for a minute that you have a disability. Many people with disabilities have difficulty making friends, and often feel lonely in this way. If you suddenly acquired a significant disability, do you think your closest friends would stop being your friends? Probably not. They love you and would likely stick by you. What if you had been born with a disability? How would this change things? For example, do you think those same friends would still be your friends? They might, but unfortunately, people shy away from befriending someone who has a disability. Also, making friends would have been even more difficult if you were being educated in a “special” classroom that was separate from the rest of the kids in your school.
You are probably starting to see why it can be hard for kids with disabilities to make new friends. How do you think this would this make you feel? It might make you feel a little sad, but most of all, it would make you feel lonely. You know how important your friends are to you and how much you value those friendships.
Having meaningful friendships is equally important for people with disabilities. Just because a person has a disability does not mean that he or she doesn’t go through similar experiences, emotions, and adjustments that you have in life and that he or she also needs people in whom to confide. Having a disability in no way diminishes the need to have strong, meaningful friendships to depend on through life’s joys and sorrows. Watch this video of a student, Julia, using her iPod touch to interact with a friend. Click on the following link to view the video.
Take a minute to think about your own life - don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself. Have you, either consciously or unconsciously, avoided being friends with a person who had a disability because you didn’t think you would have anything in common? Or that you couldn’t do the same things and have as much fun with that person as you could with your other friends? It is okay if you answered yes, as society has likely taught you that people with disabilities are “different” and therefore you automatically have gravitated towards people without disabilities, who seemed more like yourself, for friendships. By being a peer buddy you are learning that the “inability” of people with disabilities to be good friends is a myth! People with disabilities might have different learning styles, and different needs, but they are regular people just like you and can make awesome friends! Once you realize this, you can help your friends and classmates to see it, too.
As you go through your peer buddy program, start to notice the similarities between yourself and the students with whom you are working, instead of the differences. Instead of viewing yourself as someone who is there to help another student, view your buddies as people with whom you may find you have a lot in common and possibly develop a close friendship. You certainly don’t have to like everybody and be everybody’s friend, but try to open your mind and really get to know the students with whom you are working and at least see the opportunity for new friendships within those relationships.
If you already are close friends with someone with a disability, or consider your peer buddy to be a friend, you can help to break down some of the social barriers that exist for him or her at school, in the community, and with your other friends. One of the best ways to do this is to find a setting where new people can learn to appreciate your friend for his or her skills or individual interests. For example, if you and your friend love to play tennis, the tennis team or club might be a good environment for you and your buddy to interact with new people. You can help out by introducing your friend, and encouraging your buddy to play and be social with others.
1. Read the following interview with Lauren Potter a young adult with Down Syndrome who attends college and plays the cheerleader Becky Jackson on the TV show Glee!
Now consider whether students with disabilities experience bullying at your school. What can you do to help? Write a One page reflection on your thoughts.