Having friends is essential for kids

DEAR ABBY: I am writing this in response to the letter from “Trying to Make a Difference in Ohio” (April 21). She is the 12-year-old girl who wants to help other students be more accepting of kids with special needs.
My name is Anthony Kennedy Shriver, and I am the founder of Best Buddies International, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by providing opportunities for one-to-one friendships and integrated employment.
I believe that friendship is the key to building the self-esteem essential to a happy and productive life, and that is why I started Best Buddies. In just two decades, Best Buddies has grown from one chapter to more than 1,400 chapters in 42 countries. Our six programs — Best Buddies Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, e-Buddies and Jobs — positively impact more than 400,000 individuals with and without intellectual disabilities annually.
At Best Buddies, we envision a world where people with intellectual disabilities are recognized for their ABILITIES, embraced by society and valued in the workplace. Until that vision becomes a reality, we will continue to educate middle school, high school and college students; community members; corporations and employers about the emotional, functional and natural needs and abilities of people with intellectual disabilities.
I would like to add one more piece of advice to yours. I’d advise “Trying to Make a Difference” to visit bestbuddies.org to find out how to get involved with Best Buddies and urge her friends to do the same. And when school starts again, if her school does not have a chapter, I would encourage them to start one. In friendship … ANTHONY KENNEDY SHRIVER, FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, BEST BUDDIES INTERNATIONAL
DEAR ANTHONY: Thank you for the suggestion. After the letter from “Trying to Make a Difference” was published, I heard from readers telling me what an important difference your program makes in the lives of children with special needs. I also heard from their parents, describing what a huge difference just one child can make if he or she reaches out a hand in friendship. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: My son is autistic and was teased badly by his classmates. I worked with the school to address the issue. The school talked to some wonderful older students about mentoring my son. They became his buddies, keeping an eye on him and teaching him how to more appropriately interact with other kids.
The truth is, there are far more nice kids than mean ones in this world, and finding students eager to help wasn’t hard at all. The day those kids walked up to my son and asked him if he wanted to play catch was the happiest day in his life. He beamed from ear to ear, and he hasn’t stopped since.
Any young person can absolutely change the life of a child with special needs just by being a friend. — DIAN IN OAK PARK, ILL.
DEAR ABBY: I’m a speech language clinician who has worked for more than 25 years in the public schools. I have found that presenting information to students about what it means to have a disabling condition is essential. Once children talk about actions they see that are not “normal,” they learn to understand how “normal” these actions are to some children.
In our school, once the students become aware, they will seek out special needs children and include them in games and at lunch. We have implemented Recess Buddies, Lunch Buddies and social-skill whole-class lessons, which have met with success. — VALERIE IN VERNON, CONN.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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