How we educate others 

There’s a typical view many of my high school teacher/educator/guidance counselor friends have: Kids join clubs because it looks good on college applications. Often times those clubs are meaningful, sometimes they are “just for the application”.

Everyone is different, every buddy and every buddy with a developmental or intellectual disability they are paired up with. When volunteering as a high schooler for an organization like Best Buddies, TOPS, Challenger, or  local Special Olympics, are the expectations a bit different than doing track & field or participating in student council?   Of course they are.

Similarly, when in college, volunteering for a non-profit your college, fraternity or sorority supports, the same questions arise.  I offer to all young people (as the mom of children both with and without ID/D and autism): Make the commitment if you choose and keep it.

No one expects high schools kids to desert their other activities and just be a buddy, no one expects a college fraternity brother to all of a sudden have a textbook knowledge of autism, or even know people with autism, if that what their chapter supports. What we need to understand is that the students with ID/D (autism, etc.) don’t understand transitions.   What they do understand can be VERY hard to process. We see so much GOOD, let’s not lose focus. However, when teens are off to college or college kids are forced, or “strongly encouraged”, to participate in a charity, let’s educate them about what it means.  Kids like my Son and my clients have such a difficult time making friends, having other students or adults make that process more onerous and unkind, even without intending to be “mean”, IS mean.  The person whose feelings you might be hurting doesn’t get being abandoned.  Trust doesn’t come easily and consistency and structure are critical to students with autism, for example.

Friendships through Best Buddies made should be real and meaningful and, emergencies not withstanding, we need to honor those friendships/commitments.  We NEED to train volunteers in college to not only show up,  but to meaningfully interact with those served by the charity they are volunteering for.  If we don’t, the only people who lose out on relationships are the students with disabilities (and their confused families).

We need to help high school kids handle transitions, not just an “end of the year” party and the parting words “we hope you will stay in touch”.  We need to have college volunteers trained in how to interact with people with disabilities if they are doing community service.

Equally important, we need to make sure no one feels pressured to volunteer for any roles. It’s not (always) easy to enter the world of a child or teen with autism. We need to promote these inclusionary and volunteer efforts and take the time to educate the volunteers.  There’s nothing worse than people who do these things solely because they look good on college applications. That’s pretty sad.

It’s also sad to see good people who are giving their time for the right reasons but not being adequately educated by their advisors.

Let’s work together to brainstorm solutions to make for successful lifelong friendships and meaningful events where volunteers are present.  That’s the missing piece- we can solve that disconnect by first acknowledging people aren’t encyclopedias and there are deficits in training to tackle.  Doing this, we honor our volunteers and we honor those with disabilities we are all seeking to support and help grow 💙❤️ That’s a true win-win.

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