Halle is my amazing pen pal from school. She is neurotypical and chooses to write me to help me transition to normal high school. This has been an amazing experience and I wanted to share her perspective, so anyone who is interested in an inclusion opportunity can see how this has benefitted both of us!
Below is my interview:
1. What do you like most about having a pen pal with special needs?
“The coolest part about being pen pals is that it has allowed me to get to know someone for who they are, what they like, what they don’t like rather than what they look like or act like. So my favorite part about being pen pals is being able to communicate with each other and form a friendship completely based off of what we believe are the most important parts of ourselves.”
2. How do you feel this experience has benefited you?
“This experience has benefitted me because it has taught me to look at new people and strangers with an open mind and to get to know everyone for who they are because that’s what’s most important about someone. I also think this experience has benefitted me because it is so fun to be sitting in school and check my email to see a response, and then spend time responding. It is a fun way to get to know someone and it is such a good feeling to receive and send the emails because it shows that someone is thinking about you.”
3. What have you learned about autism from being my pen pal?
“I have learned that autism should not be viewed negatively. Although it may come with more challenges it is clear that you work so hard to overcome anything and do not let anything stand in your way. “
4. What would you tell someone who has no experience talking to people with special needs?
“For someone who has no experience talking to people with special needs I would say that it should not be any different than talking to someone in one of your classes. For some people it’s hard to get past the labels but if you focus on who the person is, what they like and if you find things to bond over it will be so easy, just like any other relationship with anyone else. “
5. What do you feel is the best way to be respectful to someone with special needs?
“For me, I always feel the best way to respect someone with special needs is to just be there for them and listen and share your stories. Once again, I think it is just very similar to how you would respect anyone else in life. Find ways to connect and know where the boundaries lie and what would make someone feel better about themselves vs. what would make them feel worse about themselves.”
6. How did you get involved as a pen pal?
“I got involved as a pen pal since I was a peer mentor this year. I loved my experience this year and my teacher in charge set up this opportunity for me and I was very excited to agree to it!”
7. How would you suggest getting involved as a penpal to people at other schools?
“I would suggest reaching out to any teachers involved in the special education program at school to see if there is anyone that would be interested in being a penpal. It is so simple to just ask and see if it would be a possibility since it doesn’t require much coordination.”
8. How do you make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities?
“I like to think I’m making a difference in people’s lives because I just act as the best type of friend that I would want to be there for me. I think being there for someone is the best thing you can do to impact their lives.”
9. Why is this important to you?
“Being penpals is so important to me because it has created a new friendship that otherwise may have never existed. This is also important to me because it makes me happy to talk about what we both have going on in our lives. Although certain aspects are very different, certain aspects are exactly the same, and it’s so cool to see the best in someone without even meeting in person first.”