Too frequently there is an invisible line that separates people with disabilities from those without. Best Buddies is a program that matches students who have intellectual disabilities with typical students in order to help build one-on-one friendships between them. Two buddies, Kait Smithson and Austin Brouillet, provide an inside perspective of their relationship to help us better understand some of the challenges faced every day. Austin’s experience is told by his father, Richard Brouillet. By sharing Kait and Austin’s story we hope to help people feel more comfortable engaging with others who may have a disability.
Kait says: When I first started as a freshman at Staples High School there were so many different clubs and after school activities to choose from to make new friends and meet new people. During “Club Rush” the people running the Best Buddies stand told me it’s a great opportunity to create one-on-one friendships with kids who have special needs.
Austin’s dad says: My son, Austin, has cerebral palsy. As a result, he has many disabilities, chief among them is that his ability to communicate is severely limited. However, despite his disabilities, Austin has many of the same wishes and desires that a typical teenage boy possesses. Austin strongly desires to have interactions with people his own age. Sadly, opportunities for those interactions, especially outside of school, are severely limited.
Kait says: Right away I realized that Best Buddies was so much fun. Not only did I meet such wonderful and friendly buddies, but I also met everyone in the club and I became friends with some of the other kids in the program too. I spent time with Austin, as well as another student, Wyatt. I got to know them and become friends. Sometimes we would hang out for a couple minutes at lunch, just to say Hi and see what they were up to.
Austin’s dad says: Austin does not have much of an “output mode”, so it requires great patience and diligence on the part of anyone trying to interact with him. The reality is that there are very few people of any age who are willing to take the time to engage with him.
Kait says: I had the honor of being Austin’s assistant peer buddy. Austin and I went to the Longshore skating rink with Best Buddies. I also went over to his house to decorate cupcakes and cookies during the winter. We read books and listened to music. Then another time, to support the Best Buddies Fashion show, Austin’s mom, Austin and I went around town to ask others for donations for the silent auction.
Austin’s dad says: Austin has had meaningful interactions with his peers in a myriad of social activities. Although I have a hard time finding the words to properly express the joy and happiness Austin feels when he is participating in these activities, his broad smiles and belly laughs say it all.
Kait says: This year I had so much fun with all the buddies, and all the kids. Everyone is so nice and inclusive that I am definitely going to sign up to participate next year. Working with Austin has taught me so much about how to communicate with him, how I can help him as a friend and what we can do together to make our friendship last for a long time. I am so happy I had the opportunity to have these experiences.
Austin’s dad says: I feel immeasurable gratitude to all of the selfless, dedicated people who create these wonderful, and invaluable, opportunities for Austin. The joy that Austin felt as a direct result of his experiences fills my heart with more than just a sense of gladness, but with an almost indefinable sense of peace and well-being.
This fall Austin Brouillet will be a junior at Staples High School. Austin loves to read books, take long walks and play ball.
Kait Smithson will be a sophomore at Staples High School this fall. Besides Best Buddies, Kait is very involved with the Staples Players, the school’s drama program.
Best Buddies provides opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to form one-to-one friendships and find integrated employment. Best Buddies introduces socialization opportunities and job coaching, providing the necessary tools for people with intellectual disabilities to become more independent and, correspondingly, more included in the community.