Parents Gain Online Tools to Nurture Inclusive Friendships


Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel, both parents, cofounded the National Inclusion Project in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Photo courtesy of the National Inclusion Project

Remember the viral Facebook post this summer from Leah Paske, the mother of a middle school boy with autism who was often shunned by classmates until Travis Rudolph, a wide receiver from Florida State University, visited his school? Rudolph chose to sit with him at lunch, and life has never been the same for Bo Paske, the Montford Middle School student in Tallahassee, Florida. 

After a friend sent her a photo of the two eating together, Leah wrote: “This is one day I didn't have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes. Travis Rudolph, thank you so much, you made this momma exceedingly happy, and have made us fans for life!”

If you’ve ever wanted to teach your children to include children with disabilities among their friends but didn’t know exactly how to go about it, you now have help. The National Inclusion Project has just released “Power in Friendship” — online resource guides to help parents and children build inclusive friendships. Cofounded by Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel in 2003, the National Inclusion Project provides training, curriculum and support to those who mentor youth at such places as children’s museums, YMCAs and community organizations. This November, the project is also offering advice to parents of children with and without disabilities to help them create environments in which friendship can thrive.

Photo courtesy of


In launching the online tools Nov. 15, the National Inclusion Project noted in a press release that they are designed to bridge a communication gap: “Parents of children who are typically developing are often afraid of saying the wrong thing, and offending parents of children with disabilities. Parents of children with disabilities can run into difficulties when their child is asked to participate in a non-inclusive environment.”

Parents can follow these links to learn commonsense, practical ways to build bridges:

The Power of Friendship

Making friends early and feeling a connection with those who are different from us not only opens our eyes to new ways of living and thinking, but friendship itself brings physical benefits. The Mayo Clinic notes that “good friends are good for your health,” and a recent UNC study found that social networks are as important as exercise and diet across the span of our lives.

Friends make the happy times happier and the sad moments more bearable — a wonderful gift for the young that they may be able to keep through decades of life.

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