Fostering Inclusion and Understanding: After School Matters Buddies Programs

After School Matters is dedicated to creating inclusive programs for all teens who participate. An example of this effort is the ASM Buddies programs, which have made significant strides in serving young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) like Down syndrome and autism.

ASM has three unique Buddies programs, located at each of ASM’s flagship facilities: the Michael and Karyn Lutz Center, Gallery 37 for the Arts, and After School Matters at Gately Park.

These programs welcome about 30 teens with IDDs in the fall, spring, and summer sessions. Here, they can explore skills that could be utilized in other ASM programs like visual arts, culinary arts, performing arts, and STEM alongside their neurotypical peers. Neurotypical teens without IDDs also get the chance to learn about common intellectual disabilities and how to interact with people who have them. Together, they build friendships, create artwork, and engage in social mentoring through art, games, and activities.

Kelsey Cavanaugh, ASM’s Disability Service Coordinator, highlights the transformative impact of these programs, saying, “For teens with IDDs, the ASM Buddies programs help them feel accepted and valued by instructors and peers while also teaching them valuable skills that will allow them to live more independent lives.”

These programs are exemplary models for creating inclusive and safe spaces for teenagers with and without IDDs. They break down stereotypes, build friendships, and promote empathy, all contributing to a more compassionate society. Educating people about IDDs reduces stigma and discrimination, increasing appreciation for the unique skills and strengths that people with these disabilities bring to the world.

The impact of these programs extends far beyond their duration. Each ASM Buddies program includes an instructor who is an alum and has participated in the program as a teen. Other alumni have gone on to major in fields related to disabilities, such as occupational therapy, speech and language pathology, and special education. This demonstrates the programs’ ripple effect on young people and their important role in creating a brighter, more accepting future for all.

ASM’s Buddies programs remind us that acceptance and understanding are possible in a world that can often feel divided. By offering teens a chance to form genuine connections and by promoting the value of diversity, ASM is lighting the way forward to a brighter, more inclusive reality.