By Patricia Abely ’21 (she/her)

 Photo Emily Frazer-Abel

Although there are many ways to process and experience all the sights, sounds, emotions, and events of human life, our society is not always inclusive of those with special needs. So, at Buddy Club, we aim to provide a comfortable, inclusive environment specifically for youth with autism, ages 3 to 21: our “Buddies.” Our goal is to create a space for Buddies and Davidson students to enjoy spending time together and to form relationships over the years. Buddies and Davidson students gather weekly, whether to play large, lively games of Uno, read books, throw around the football, color and decorate cards together, or just chat. Some Buddies may feel overwhelmed in group settings or prefer more independent play—these Buddies are often paired with the same college student each week. That student spends time getting to know their Buddy one-on-one and supports their Buddy if they join in with group activities. 

I have been paired with the same teenage Buddy for the past three years. He is nonverbal and initially did not seem interested in playing with others. So, at first, I was so focused on trying to engage him in different activities that I was less attuned to his interests and what he was communicating to me. It has been a process of becoming more aware and responsive and learning how to relate to each other, but I have loved getting to know and spend time with my Buddy. Over time, he has become more comfortable interacting with me, and I loved seeing his infectious energy and enthusiasm as we would race toy cars, build block towers, and read his favorite book. Over time, we have built this bond without conversation; it is a bond based on understanding and awareness of the other. 

The relationships formed through weekly meetings are such a core part of this club and something that we celebrate at our end of the year banquet. The banquet is always a memorable event; it is a chance to get to know our Buddies’ families better. I would argue that the most memorable part is when we announce the Buddy Club Superlatives. Each Buddy receives a superlative, which is typically decided by the college student who knows that Buddy best. Some past superlatives have included: Best Sense of Humor, Best Smile, Most Observant, Most Energetic, Most Creative, and Most Kind. Our Buddies and their families really enjoy cheering and clapping for each other—it is such a beautifully joyful event. It is also a reminder that the things about us that are less tangible and quantifiable, that capture how we share our unique selves with the world, may be the most valuable and worthy of celebrating. It is incredible to see our Buddies’ excitement when they receive their awards and the joy of their parents when we get a superlative especially right: “Yes! That’s so perfect for her!” 

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we have not been able to meet with our Buddies this year, and some of our Buddies may be feeling especially isolated at home right now. Also, many children with autism benefit from consistency, from establishing and following routines—the constantly changing circumstances of COVID-19 can disrupt routines and increase anxiety within families. So, we are definitely thinking of our Buddies during this time, and although we really miss being able to see them each week, our club has enjoyed writing, decorating, and sending cards to our Buddies. We are very thankful for the Buddy Club’s freshmen and other clubs that have gotten involved. We would love for more students to send a card and brighten a Buddy’s day if they are interested. 

(If you are interested in sending a card to one of our Buddies, instructions and card materials can be found in a folder attached to the door of Jamie 101.)

Patricia Abely ’21 (she/her) is a senior Psychology major, English minor from Maitland, FL. Contact her at paabely@davidson.edu.