I hold my breath as my five-year old son zooms around the playground. There are children laughing and squealing all around us. Games of tag and the sound of ring-around-the-rosey sung in unison fill the evening air.
My son continues to run in circles as if he is the only child on the playground. Another child approaches him and catches his attention. He stops. My heart starts pounding and I convince myself to wait and watch before jumping in to help him navigate this brief social encounter. It’s over as quickly as it began and he is back to zooming around the playground.
Some of the moms and other children begin to stare. Most smile politely and continue on with what they were doing and I sink back into my seat, wondering what the future will hold for my son. This is a typical day in the life of my five-year old son who is diagnosed with autism and cognitive delay. While my other typically developing five-year old son is eager to play with friends on the playground, my son with special needs is satisfied to stay within his comfort zone of isolation.
Could you imagine a world without friendship? I certainly could not.
So one day I asked myself if my son is truly happy playing alone with only brief and superficial social encounters. Doesn’t he really crave friendship like his brother? Although my son is limited verbally, a single conversation was enough to clarify that he did indeed want to make friends. As his mother, I was determined to help him do it.
So imagine my delight when I came across the international organization Best Buddies:
“Best Buddies® is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).”
I fell in love with what this organization is doing and decided to run a 5K benefitting Best Buddies. I was able to raise funds for this great organization as well as show the world that I fiercely believe that friendship is for everyone. This run, in fact, inspired me to train for a half-marathon in which I will be helping a special needs participant cross the finish line.
While Best Buddies is changing the world for individuals with intellectual disabilities, their services are not currently available in all areas. They have released the 2020 Initiative that you can read about below:
“Best Buddies created the 2020 Initiative in 2011, with the goal of opening offices in all 50 states, expanding into 100 countries, and impacting 3 million people with and without IDD worldwide by the end of 2020. The initiative also includes plans to train 4,000 Buddy Ambassadors, develop 1,000 jobs for people with IDD around the world, and increase the number of school-based chapters to 2,500. As a result of these ambitious expansion efforts, Best Buddies hopes to become a household name by the end of 2020.”
As a mom to a child with special needs, I deeply hope that Best Buddies will become a household name by the year 2020 and I am doing my best to spread awareness.
Have you ever thought about ways to help individuals with special needs become integrated more meaningfully into society? What do you teach your children about friendship and including others who may be different from them?
Photo credit to the author.