The Secrets of a Successful Buddy Program

The Secrets of a Successful Buddy Program

How did one mom create a successful buddy program and lasting friendships for her autistic son?

When it comes to parenting a child on the autism spectrum, don’t you wish that there was a book with all the answers? A roadmap to helping them grow and thrive? Each autistic child is unique and there are no “one size fits all” solutions to making sure we’re meeting our children’s needs. We may not know what to do at any given time, but we must trust that we have the strength within us to figure it out…to find and, sometimes, fight for their therapies, services, schools and programs.

And if the right ‘thing’ doesn’t exist? We must find the courage to create the solutions ourselves because if we don’t do it, who will? Throughout the blogosphere, you’ll encounter resourceful moms and dads, siblings and grandparents who had no choice but to dive right in and do just that!

I have tremendous respect for one such mom, Lisa Smith of Quirks and Chaos. She has been cultivating and building friendships for her son, Tate. For many children on the autism spectrum like Tate, developing friendships can be a challenge. Through education, coaching and teamwork, Lisa has created a community of teachers, parents, therapists and peers who eagerly participate to help Tate thrive. Tate’s peers consider him a valued member of their class and treat him as an equal. So successful, People Magazine got wind of the “Lunch Buddy Program” and featured Tate and his friends in the magazine.

Lisa and Tate

So how did she do it? According to Lisa, success depends on three critical factors:

1) Parents willing to work

“No one is more important than the parent. We badgered administrators and teachers for programs we thought really mattered and were not afraid to ask for things they had never done before.”

2) Teachers vested in the program

“Without all the hard-working adults—teachers, SLPAs, paraprofessionals—we would not have gotten far.”

3) Willing peers

“We had willing peers with compassionate parents who allowed their children to be peer models for Tate.”

We created “The Friendship Kit” which provides more details about Tate’s Lunch Buddy Program. It includes the flyers, permission slips, disclosures and class story Lisa uses as a framework from which you can create your own materials based on your own unique situation. I know that you’ll be inspired and take away some strategies you can try.

The Friendship Kit

One of the best ways to introduce autism to your child’s classroom peers is through our Bluebee TeeVee Autism Information Station. It’s a friendly, fun, and approachable way to engage children in a discussion about your child. “The Friendship Game” episode is a perfect fit for introducing a buddy program:

Lisa Smith is a parent we can all model ourselves after. She proactively works to build a strong support team and welcoming community for her autistic son, Tate. What’s important to note is that Lisa is an introvert at heart but she’ll do whatever she has to do to keep her children safe and happy.

Be resourceful! Be creative! Be scrappy! You have the power within to make whatever needs to happen for your child, happen.

Access more episodes of Bluebee TeeVee and the parent/teacher episode guides.

Help other parents by spreading the word about the Friendship Kit and Bluebee TeeVee!

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About Jodi Murphy

I am the founder of Geek Club Books, autism storytelling through mobile apps for awareness, acceptance and understanding. My mission is to use the art of storytelling and technology to entertain and educate for the social good. I am a 'positive' autism advocate, mother of an awesome adult on the autism spectrum, lifestyle journalist, and marketing specialist.


  1. Rhonda V says:

    Does your son go unto uncontrollable rages? My son will be 9 next month, was hospitalized and their thoughts were his concoction of prescription meds for ADHD and Autism were doing this but we are not so sure. He’s violent and goes into an uncontrollable rage for no specific reason, he looks rIght through us even swears and when when he’s finished he’s a crying mess and apologetic 🙁

    • Oh your poor son! I’m sure this is as difficult for him as it is for you. My son did not and does not have those rages so I cannot share any thoughts on how we approached it. I hope it works out that it is his meds and if not, that you are able to find the answers. ~ Jodi

    • I’m Tate’s mom. Tate has not ever been violent. His meltdowns occur when he is anxious and they are pretty quiet. He breaks out in hives, stims, and occasionally cries when he is very stressed but he never lashes out at anyone.

      I’m so sorry you are going through this with him. I have heard of other kids with autism having similar issues. I am not well informed about what they do that helps. I have no advice but I’m so glad you are seeking answers. It’s definitely the right thing to be doing.

    • Hello, I can relate to this. My son tends to be very emotional and can have moments of raging. I’ve taken him out of the school district because it was exasperating the situation. I have worked hard on identifying th he triggers and have analyzed his diet and realized rhat certain foods compromise his behavior. Gluten , wheat, dairy and certain sweeteners , like Malton dextrose create mood swings and sores in his mouth. Sensory issues, like blinking of his eyes and just feeling sluggish occur with foods that have certain chemicals and dyes.

  2. Candida Hernandez says:

    I love this post. I work at a library and we are trying to develop programming for the young adults in the autism community. My son Max, is 17, nonverbal and on the severe side of the spectrum. I am fortunate that he is a pretty mellow guy even though he has major sensory issues and his meltdowns result in self directed harm but can usually be redirected.

    I have noticed much of the attention and resources have tended to run to the early childhood intervention and programming and would like to see more for our older kids so I’m interested in anything that helps develop a community for our young adults. The library has given me the opportunity to help develop this programming so I am very excited about the possibilities.

    Thanks for this valuable information, as it opened up another facet I hadn’t considered. Also, if you or any of your readers have ever attended Special Need programming for young adults and would like to share that experience, I would appreciate it. Again, thanks for all your great work.

    • Thank you Candida for your comment. We do like to cover programs and resources for adults on the spectrum too. We post a lot of this information on our Facebook page at – Also, I am going to email you a handout from a panel my adult autistic son and I were on a few years ago. There are some great resources I think you’ll be interested in. ~ Jodi

  3. My son is 12 and has Aspergers. We homeschool and I was wondering if there was a buddy program available for homeschooling kiddos?

    • Amy, I don’t know if any specific to home schooling but I bet you could adapt Lisa’s program to make it work for your needs. Also, download the episode guide for Episode 4 of Bluebee TeeVee (it’s under the educator tab on our home page menu) – there are lots of resources about friendship programs you can explore.

  4. Tonita C says:

    Thank you so much for sharing the Friendship Kit. Do you have any special advice for implementing this program in middle school please? My son is moving to middle school in the fall. He has spent most of his elementary school years reading at lunch time and during recess. I would love to work with his new school to start up a program like this. Thanks!

    • I’m sure you can adapt this and make it work for middle school. Lisa’s son is now in middle school.

    • I think your first step is to get the special education teachers onboard. That may or may not be easy. We have an advocate that comes with us to all our IEP meetings. She is often very persuasive and able to convince educators of the importance of social skills programs. Let us know how it goes!

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