Diverse Friendships Many programs teach teens with special needs how to be friends. This teenager turned the model around, teaching her typically developing peers how to be friends with a buddy with special needs. First Person/Last Page
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First Person/Last Page  |   June 01, 2015
Diverse Friendships
Author Notes
  • Padraigin O’Flynn recently graduated Our Lady of the Elms High School in Akron, Ohio, where she played varsity tennis and participated in speech, debate and drama. She will attend Kent State University in the fall, with plans to earn a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. poflynn@students.theelms.org
    Padraigin O’Flynn recently graduated Our Lady of the Elms High School in Akron, Ohio, where she played varsity tennis and participated in speech, debate and drama. She will attend Kent State University in the fall, with plans to earn a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. poflynn@students.theelms.org×
Article Information
Development / Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Special Populations / Genetic & Congenital Disorders / Autism Spectrum / School-Based Settings / Practice Management / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page   |   June 01, 2015
Diverse Friendships
The ASHA Leader, June 2015, Vol. 20, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.20062015.72
The ASHA Leader, June 2015, Vol. 20, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.20062015.72
Friendships are a priceless part of human existence.
Last fall, as a peer model in my mom’s speech-language pathology practice, I realized that spending time with the kids with special needs was not much different than hanging out with my “typical” friends. We played similar games, talked about similar subjects, and just enjoyed one another’s company. That was how I got the idea for Peer:Peer, a program that teaches typical teens how to befriend teens with special needs.
Peer:Peer does not teach teens with special needs how to be friends with typical teens. Don’t get me wrong: That teaching has its place. The point I tried to make is that teaching teens with special needs how to make friends is pointless unless their typical peers also understand their disabilities and how to become friends with them.
I began to plan Peer:Peer in August 2013. I sent letters to some of my typical friends, siblings of the kids with special needs, and some tweens and teens from my mom’s speech-language pathology practice. I spent more than 100 hours planning the sessions.
My mom, Mary L. Padula, taught the typical peers about different disabilities and what they could do to help their “buddies” stay calm so that they could enjoy the friendship time.
The four Peer:Peer sessions began in June 2014, with five typical peers and eight buddies with special needs. The typical peers—females age 14–19—included a college student, three private-school students and a home-schooled student. Two have siblings with special needs, both of whom participated in Peer:Peer as well.

Peer:Peer required quite a bit of planning, but seeing the smiles on all of the participants’ faces as their friendships grew made it all worth it.

The buddies—three boys and five girls, ages 11–18—have a range of disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, dyspraxia, Down syndrome and genetic disorders. During the weekly two-hour sessions, we had different activities, including reading, balloon volleyball, mural art, reader’s theater performances, yoga and cooking.
During snack time, participants shared how their week had been, either by speaking or with the use of a symbol-supported communication app on a tablet. Peer:Peer required quite a bit of planning, but seeing the smiles on all of the participants’ faces as their friendships grew made it all worth it.
All of the typical peers said they learned about friendship and understanding others, and the buddies with special needs learned important friendship and communication skills—all while creating lasting relationships. I learned that befriending people with special needs is not that different than being friends with anyone else. If anything, it’s easier, because people with special needs are not quick to judge you. Many of the parents said that their child with special needs looked forward to the program each week and couldn’t stop talking about it at home.
Now that the sessions are over, the goal is for the typical peers and their buddies to stay in contact through email and get-togethers. I’m glad that I put this program together for the enjoyment and learning of all who participated.
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June 2015
Volume 20, Issue 6