As a mother of two children on the autism spectrum, Chelsea Budde has spent the last 16 years discovering how best to interact with, support, decipher, and empower neurologically diverse youth. In 2007, she cofounded the nonprofit organization Good Friend, Inc. in Waukesha, Wisconsin, which has reached more than 35,000 people directly with a message of autism awareness, acceptance, and empathy. Although she received a B.A. in English from St. Norbert College in 1995, most of her related training has come from conferences, workshops, professional collaborations, and field experience. In addition to being a trainer, she is also a writer, regular university guest lecturer, and a frequent state and national conference presenter.
In addition to her work with Good Friend, Inc., Chelsea has collaborated with CPI on blogs and electronic resources, including 9 Tips for Interacting With Individuals With Autism.
For anyone who interacts with people on the spectrum, Chelsea Budde is brimming with beneficial and insightful information. Throughout the interview, Chelsea describes how her work with Good Friend, Inc. has enhanced the educational and social experience for all children. By using positive stories, interactive exercises, and reinforcing good friend behavior through a novel K-9 curriculum, Good Friend, Inc. provides children, parents, and educators with the tools to build a better foundation for a cooperative society.
In the interview, Chelsea describes the services available through her organization, including peer sensitivity workshops and general assembly presentations. She also tackles sensitive issues like the difference between bullying and disability harassment, promotes Good Friend, Inc.’s music video, We All Fit, and talks about an upcoming independent research study out of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater that qualifies Good Friend, Inc.’s work as evidence-based practice. There’s a lot of great information in this interview.
Here are some highlights of my conversation with Chelsea:
On the difference between bullying and disability harassment (48:16)
For some people, everything is bullying. Someone being mean is bullying. “Bullying” has such a disputed and overrated use that we're not really calling too much attention to bullying. We're doing what we can do to create a culture where bullying is not something that we do. We recognize it hopefully and hopefully we're responding to it, but that disability harassment piece is something that has been defined in federal legislation. We wanted to make sure we differentiate it.
At this point in the interview, Chelsea goes on to tell two true stories about how kids on the spectrum can suffer disability harassment. The first involves a boy running laps in gym class. The second involves an assault at a public pool, and a waiting police patrol for the assailant.
On why the definition of “neurodiversity” is dangerous (55:14)
So the concept of neurodiversity is understanding that not everybody is going to have a brain wired the same way, and it doesn't necessarily mean that those with differently wired brains are disabled or dysfunctional or defective. There's this range of neurological ability and experience, and that they are all worthy, that none of them is defective or deficient. The concept of neurodiversity, I think, where it can get a little dangerous is that, okay, if this is neurodiversity and people with diverse neurological experience are not necessarily disabled or defective, how do we make sure that we are making the proper accommodation for people who are atypical neurologically.
So for example, if you have an individual with autism who as part of their autism is unable to speak reliably with verbal communication, are we able to mitigate for them? I want to make sure that we are providing the tools and resources and accommodation that that individual might need in the workplace, in school, out in the community, to be able to mitigate for that aspect of their disability.
On Good Friend, Inc. services (12:12)
We have differentiated services for our elementary school level and our middle school level. On the elementary school level, when we were first building services, the whole point was to be able to talk about a specific student with autism. That's what we really wanted to do. That's what we were doing as parents. We were going in, we were talking about our sons, and we have seen the value of that on a personal level. So that's called the peer sensitivity workshop; that's something that we do for kindergarten through fifth grade.
(12:52) With the peer sensitivity workshop, we first get parental consent to be able to talk about this student specifically. Once we get that parental consent, we have a phone interview that we do with the parents so we can learn how that student ticks. What makes them fantastic? What are they really good at? What's their special interest? What does friendship mean to them? Because it's going to look different for them than it might for a typically developing classmate, and then we find out what are some of the things that they struggle with.
(15:56) In the elementary school and the middle school level, we also have a general assembly where we're not talking about a specific student. It's a general presentation on autism and then we can get multiple grade levels together at the same time. We never recommend more than three grade levels at a time because the message will change a little bit for developmental reasons. We can do up to 500 kids at one time during those general assemblies, and then for staff and services we talk about the importance of autism and social rapport.
On Good Friend, Inc.’s logo design (6:00):
So in the autism universe, there's a puzzle piece and the puzzle piece has become a matter of controversy over the years. When we first started we just saw the puzzle piece in the sense of bringing people together and making them fit together. That's how we have the two puzzle pieces of the different colors. The whole point is that you can take two different people and make them fit together if they have the right information, and that's why we also wanted to be called Good Friend. That's what this is about; it's about creating the proper foundation for meaningful healthier relationships.