“Kayla, guess what? My dog Daisy drank out of the toilet again!”
This quote is from my friend Garrett, who was exclaiming one of his many stories to me. He went on to describe his mischievous dog and the trouble she’d always gets in.
Garrett is a special needs student at my high school who is one of my best friends to this day.
We met in orchestra class when I was a sophomore and he was a freshman. On that day, Garrett came up to me with a beaming smile on his face and introduced himself to me as I was unzipping my viola case. From then on, we would always chat before class started, and we developed a strong friendship.
Soon after meeting Garrett, I decided to join a club called Best Buddies, an organization dedicated to creating friendships and opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It was one of the largest and most engaged clubs at my high school, and I have so many fun memories from it.
Some of my favorite events from the club included mini-golfing and bowling. We would also do crafts, play games and we even had a prom, of which Garrett was chosen to be prom king.
While participating in all of these activities, I developed relationships with students I might have thought I never would have befriended.
My high school is fortunate not only to have a Best Buddies chapter, but also inclusive programs such as sports teams and theater. Garrett was active on the basketball team, track team and the cheerleading squad.
It’s important for students with special needs to be included in these programs so they can have the same opportunities and experiences other students have.
My personal friendship with Garrett was active outside of Best Buddies. Some of my other friends and I would take Garrett to get ice cream occasionally — a tradition we did one last time as we said goodbye and departed for college.
Though I don’t get to see him in person now that I’m at Lehigh, I still stay in touch with Garrett through text and Skype.
Lehigh has its own Best Buddies chapter in which students interact with those with special needs from the local Bethlehem area. Although I haven’t been as active in the club as I would like because of other time commitments, I’m glad Lehigh has its own chapter and is able to interact with the Bethlehem community.
Something interesting to note is that the buddies at the Lehigh chapter are all adults, while many of the chapters at middle and high schools are for students of those respective ages. I feel as though adults with special needs are more forgotten about, but interacting with them is just as important as with kids.
You might have seen a small box about Best Buddies in the most recent inSTALLment, titled “End ‘the word.’” The Lehigh chapter of Best Buddies is participating in the “spread the word to end the word” campaign. This is a mission of the Best Buddies organization.
The word in question is the R-word: retarded.
Best Buddies will be at the University Center from 11 p.m. – 1 a.m. on Tuesday through Thursday of this week to ask students to sign the pledge to stop the use of this word.
Personally, I believe people with intellectual or developmental disabilities don’t deserve to be bullied for being who they are. A step toward this goal should be to stop using derogatory terms when referring to them.
It’s important to recognize we don’t just coexist side by side with people who have special needs, we exist together. They can be our friends and even our best buddies. And no matter if you have a desire to become friends with them, I urge you to give them the same respect as you would to anyone else.
Recall the golden rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. And by others, I mean anyone and everyone.
Who knows? You could make a new friend along the way.
Kayla Sippin, ’20, is an assistant news editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]