Remaking Recess: Matching Kids to Well-Meaning Peers Doesn't Always Work

Assigned Friends Outcome

By Judy Endow, MSW

Many programs or teachers place children with developmental disabilities like autism in a pair or group with presumably typically developing children who volunteer to help them – but what do the children intended to benefit want? Who is really benefitting, if anyone? Often these arrangements refer to the children as “friends” or “buddies”, whereas they would not automatically assign that status to fellow neurotypical classmates. This inequality and control puts the targeted children at risk for a life of submissiveness and pity, rather than self-efficacy and respect.

Judy Endow, an autistic author and speaker on a variety of autism-related topics, elaborates:

I was taught to say, “Thank you for being my friend.”
So I say it.
I was told to smile like I mean it.
So I smile.

I know I am supposed to feel grateful
That you are my friend
That you took the class
On how to be a peer mentor to me –

The good friends way –
A pal for six weeks
You have been defined

You are a good person
For giving up your spot
At the popular kids’ lunch table

To earn the community service hours
You need for graduation
By eating lunch with me,
By being my assigned friend.

I ask, “Do you know Jerry Lewis?”
Because I think you would like him
I think you are a modern day Jerry Lewis –
A Good Samaritan who calls himself friend.

You don’t have a telethon on TV,
But you have the Jerry Lewis Telethon
In you heart
Imparted by Mrs. Jones in her Good Friends Program.

You are a good person.
You are a trained Good Samaritan now called “friend.”

Definition of Good Samaritan

“A person who gratuitously gives help or sympathy
to those in distress.”

            Says dictionary.com

 Next month you will get your community service credit.
Your lifelong attitude about people like me
Will have been shaped

Because the peer mentoring training
Has passed on to you
Society’s adoption of Jerry Lewis’ ideas about me –
A person in need of sympathy
And a person in distress
Only because I am me – an autistic

We have become fake friends
For six weeks –
A Mrs.-Jones-Good-Friends-Program-success!

Your benevolence;
My neediness
Having been defined

With a line drawn between us
Our two groups separated
Defined, distinct, different from each other –
Society’s wisdom at categorization…

When it is over
We say our goodbyes

And like I was taught I say,
“Thank you for being my friend.”
And I remember I am meant
To smile like I mean it.
So I smile.

Goodbye peer mentor –
My assigned pal
From Mrs. Jones Good Friends Program.

You go on to your next project
I wait for my next assigned friend to eat lunch with
Both of us having been marked by the experience

Unbeknownst to Mrs. Jones and to us –
The indelible ink of societal attitudes
Wrote messages on both our hearts
Confirming my place in your world…

That it is indeed YOUR world
And thus, your right
To continually put me in my place

For which I am meant to say,
“Thank you for being my friend.”
And to smile like I mean it.

And this status quo could march on and on
EXCEPT

Yesterday I stopped smiling
And for all the rest of my todays

I will no longer say
“Thank you for being my friend.”
Even though I know I am meant to.

Reposted with permission from Judy’s blog Aspects of Autism Translated:

http://www.judyendow.com/advocacy/assigned-friends-outcome/