Why youth should be friends with adults with disabilities

I have long believed that it would be wonderful to get youth to be friends with disabled adults. Not youth with other disabled youth, not adults with other disabled adults. We need those things also, but we also should have abled youth befriending disabled adults. Here are all the reasons why that would make the world a better place and why, despite some strong concerns people may have about youth befriending problem adults, this should be done.

Children are more pure hearted than adults

Adults can be very judgmental about people who are different. Children, and even teenagers, not so much. Adults who work with disabled people often see themselves as semi professionals and speak down to the disabled. Children who encounter disabled people are not like that at all. They see the disabled as their friends and they don’t speak down to them.

When children are taught compassion for people who are different, it stays with them for the rest of their lives

When children are taught that certain people are inferior to others, they carry these ideas for the rest of their lives. However, when not only are they taught to value people who are different, but also to embrace those who are different, they carry that on for the rest of their lives. When these children become the adults who run our society, they are more likely to aim for society being more equal and friendly to the disabled.

Bonds that start when one is a youth are more likely to carry on into adulthood.

The younger one is when a friendship begins, the stronger and more long lasting the bond is. A friendship formed in one’s formative years is lifelong, while one formed in one’s adult years is often disposable. And it does not need to be that both people were in their formative years when the friendship began. The strongest adult friendships I have now are with people whom I first met when they were teenagers or preteens and I was a bit older. Because of my disability I never got to have any good friends in elementary through high school and thus do not have any good friends from that era now.

Disabled adults are often more on the same level as youth than other adults

I do not want to assume that all disabled adults are childlike- that is not true. However, adults who have an intellectual or developmental disability often do not have the full adult maturity in social skills. As such, they find it easier to relate to children and teenagers than they do to other adults. People often are apprehensive to youth befriending adults because of the undue power adults may exercise over the youth. However, when it comes to disabled adults, the abled adults also have power over them. By letting the less powerful adults be friends with youth who are less powerful than abled adults, it evens things out.

It rights a wrong many disabled people have experienced

Disabled adults often suffered a lot of exclusion growing up, and as a result never got to have meaningful friendships with other youth. As adults, the disabled have better social skills and likely live in a world a bit more accepting of disability than when they were growing up, but telling them that they now have to befriend other adults and leave youth alone does not work. If you never got to have meaningful friendships with youth, you are not going to be easily able to have meaningful relationships with adults later on in life, especially if you have low social skills. Even if you do succeed in adult relationships as an adult, you may still be traumatized by having been denied a childhood. Allowing adults to be friends with youth rights a wrong the adults have faced. It gives them an opportunity to live a youth they never got to have, and one they should not be denied for the rest of their lives just because they grew up with parents who did not believe in inclusion or at a time when society did not believe in inclusion.

Many disabled adults will never get to have their own children

If adults want to bond with children and teenagers, as many adults do, they can do it with their own children. However, most adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities will never get to have their own children. Marriage and relationships for us are much more difficult than the are for the rest of society and that means less of an ability to have children. Even when we do find someone to have children with, we are at a greater risk of having them taken away from us even if we are loving parents. And many disabled adults, myself included, do not want to have their own children. As a person with autism, noises and smells of little children are a huge problem for me and I would not want to have to spend ten years of my life surrounded by these things. Even if we like children, we might not want or be able to be with them all the time, which is what parenting requires. Letting disabled adults befriend youth but not being their full time caregivers makes things more equal for those adults who may be unable to raise their own children but who nevertheless still love youth and will not harm them.

Young people bring joy to many

Especially when they are not staring at their phones and cutting themselves off from everyone around them. When young people have interactions with others, they brighten their day. The disabled and the elderly often have dreary solitary lives, but when other people full of energy and simple compassion come to engage with them it makes all the difference in their moods.

We should not have a culture of fear regarding adults interacting with youth

Whenever the media talks about adults interacting with youth that are not their own children or close relatives, it is often about adults who molest or otherwise abuse youth. While unfortunately there are people out there who will do that, the vast majority of interactions between adults and youth are positive ones. These include mentoring relations, as well as cases of youth befriending disabled or homeless adults who otherwise have no friends. Unfortunately, because of the emphasis placed on the negative relations between adults and youth, there is a lot of prejudice against the positive ones also. And because of this prejudice, many positive adult-youth connections that can happen do not happen. This needs to change, as should happen with every prejudice our society has that negatively affects some people.

What I am proposing

A Best Buddies type organization that will connect compassionate youth with disabled adults. Namely we will focus on people on the autism spectrum, people with other intellectual/ developmental disabilities, the homeless, and elderly people without adequate family and social connections. The youth will be of middle and high school age, along with some college aged people and upper elementary schoolers, as at these ages people are young enough to be pure hearted but old enough to have a certain level of maturity. Personally I do not regret missing out on age similar friendships the first ten years of my life. I never liked noisy and immature kids of that age, and the social skills developed in that age are very easy to develop at any stage of life and with people of any age.

The interactions will involve doing activities together or even just talking with one another.  Also I would like the youth participants, especially the older youth, to include the disabled adults in some of the activities with their friends. My goal would be to have the interactions occur in as least restrictive of an environment as society and the youth’s parents will allow.

We will, however, take safety precautions to ensure the safety of both the youth and the adults. All adults will be background checked to ensure they are not violent, predatory, or in any way likely to harm the youth. This will include a criminal background check as well as a statement from someone who knows the disabled adult well to verify that person is not of risk to others. The youth will also be screened to make sure they are compassionate and not likely to harm the disabled adults. The parents will need to approve of their child participating in this program, and will also be asked to meet the disabled adult to know what that person is made of. This program will greatly benefit both youth and adults, both people with a disability and those without. I very much hope this program can come into fruition without the prejudiced and fearmongering crowd defeating us.

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