A Buddy Notebook

This buddy book works for buddies who work with all ages, and it is a valuable tool for teachers and buddies in a typical group as well as a separate group for persons with disabilities. Your Buddy Information is copyrighted. Alter or copy this to fit your needs, but please do not sell it. In the interest of space, all pictures have been removed, so spacing does not reflect the correct format. Add free clip art.








Team Phone Numbers and email addresses:


The words buddy, shadow, mentor or assistant are used to refer to anyone who works in tandem with a child, youth or adult who has special needs. It can be in a typical classroom, a church event or a special needs group.

Other names for a buddy:

A Shadow, A Mentor, Assistant, Aide

A buddy is an enabler, a mentor and the person who will

  • Help a friend find a page in a book.
  • Help a friend who is hyper-focused move to a new activity.
  • Pick up someone’s crutches or other device.
  • Put hand on hand to help hold a pencil or color.
  • Guide a friend to sit in the right place.
  • Stay nearby but in the background unless needed.
  • Play, sing, participate with a friend.
  • Cut food or feed a friend when necessary.
  • Help a friend celebrate a holy moment.

Buddies may be asked to assist a child with a disability who wishes to participate in a typical classroom.

A buddy or mentor may help someone in worship, recreational activity, camp or eating.


Who decides what a buddy will do? A buddy’s job varies with the student’s gifts and abilities, the parent’s wishes and their goals for their child, and will fit in with the churches’ design for special needs. After reading this manual, ask your leader for details of what is expected of you, then talk to that person about your boundaries and if you are expected to redefine your job later.

Take time to read verbal and body messages of your student and process the information into your attitude and action. Does the student cringe when touched?  Does the student live in a pretend world or have difficulty telling the truth? Alison’s advice: You can tell me anything, but tell me if it is pretend. Does the student respond to hugs or prefer a smile or pat? Alison’s advice: Appropriate touching is important. Do repeated directions give the student sensory overload? Alison’s advice: Get the student’s attention before giving the advice only once. Must the student always move? Alison’s advice: Alternate movement activities with quiet activities or rescue a student to move without disrupting the group.

Observe the person’s special gifts, likes and dislikes. Use the gifts. Each age level group has boundaries, so a buddy may intervene even if what the student is doing is something he or she likes but is hyper-focused on. With experience, a buddy learns gentle ways to do this. A buddy may also intervene if there are safety issues.

A buddy is friendly. Become familiar so you will know when the student’s attention span is all used up, and learn to recognize the need to make a change in an activity or the environment. It may be to walk or wheel in the hallway for a few minutes, or the student might go to a different room where calming strategies can be used and there is less stimulation. (These moments are often called “meltdowns.”) Some churches have “Breathing Corners” where a student and his or her buddy can take a breather. Removal to a separate environment is not a penalty but a safe haven for the moment. It will be a safe haven that is fun and tailored to the student’s needs. Some students recognize that they are on the edge of a meltdown, and want to remove themselves to the breathing corner or a separate sensory calming room.

Social skills and friendships are developed in mainstreamed classes.  For this reason, a buddy remains present AS NEEDED, but also stays in the background in order for the student to develop peer relationships.


A buddy job is a powerful witness. The old adage, “You didn’t say anything, but I heard every word you said” comes into play as a buddy and friend relate to each other.

A buddy job is a job to be undertaken with God’s help. Please pray for your student/friend, and pray for other members of the special needs team, yourself and the parents of your buddy.

Parents like to meet the buddy who will be helping their child, and they can provide information that will help you do your job, such as telling you the fears, likes and dislikes of the child, and how to handle emergency situations. They will like to know that you are praying for their child.

A buddy job calls for boldness. Within group boundaries, use your imagination and personal skills. Don’t be afraid to talk or act. A student’s learning is often veiled, and a teacher/buddy does not know learning is taking place until later, and sometimes never. Observe parallel play and parallel learning where the student apparently is not listening or observing others, but is actually alert to what is going on. Remain confident that you are needed even if it feels like you are doing nothing.

Remain positive that spiritual formation is happening on the student’s level.


A first aid kit is in the resource room.

A buddy will have access to medical information, but is not expected to give first aid. This information is collected on information/enrollment sheets and kept locked up by the person in charge of the group you are working with, and it is to be shared ONLY with other leaders, and a buddy may be called into emergency action.  Following is a sample of information in the personal information notebook:


This information sheet should follow a student to any activity including the classroom.



Student’s Name________________________________________


Phone number ________________ Age____ DOB _________

Parent’s Names _______________________________________

Email address_______________________

Contact information during class or activity:

Sunday School Class Name ______________________________

Sanctuary ______________ Other location _________________

My child likes _________________________________________

My child dislikes ________________________________________

Information that might improve my student’s experience: ____________________________________________________



Allergies _____________________

Medications __________________________________________

Bathroom help required?             If yes, what kind?

Note to Parents when this information sheet is filled out:


Chapelwoood is a Safe Sanctuary Church. Every volunteer who works with children, youth or adults with special needs is certified by Safe Sanctuary.



Parents have trusted the buddies and leaders with the safety of their children of all ages. To keep that trust buddies and leaders need to review the safety issues together, revisiting and revising them at least once a year.

  1. There will always be two persons present in the room with any student.
  2. No child goes out the door without a parent.
  3. Never use candles or light matches.
  4. Respect the student’s privacy for toileting, but for older students leave the door open a little in case the person needs help. Always have two leaders in the restroom with someone who requires help.
  5. Diapers and Depends are available in the supply cabinet. Two persons must be present if a person needs changing.  Use the changing bed with two leaders/buddies present. If there is no changing bed on the location, use a screen, curtain off part of the room, or remove students from the room while changing someone.
  6. Always put your personal belongings on a top shelf or closet. Avoid bringing medication in a purse.
  7. If you use medical aids, explain the rules concerning it to your friend. (For example, no one touches your cane, crutch or wheelchair controls.)
  8. Speak to parents about any medical aids brought into the classroom, find out how they function, why they are used, and what the rules are for respecting the equipment. Explain to other students how to treat the equipment with respect.
  9. Ask new parents what a student may safely eat. Know what to do if someone chokes.
  10. Review the information sheet on “What to Do If Someone Has A Seizure.” Decide which leader will deal with seizure and which leaders will care for the rest of the group during that time in an orderly fashion.  Page the parent. Do not call 911 unless the seizure lasts ten minutes.
  11. In some cases, give parents the cell phone number of the group leader in case they are delayed.
  12. If a student brings a supply bag, be certain his/her name is on it. Ask parents for instructions about its contents.
  13. Become familiar with your churches’ emergency plans and those of your particular group. Learn escape routes and the location of stair chairs and fire doors.
  14. Learn the safety rules for the group you are helping.



1) Speak love. Be loving, but firm.

2) Routine is important and comfortable for students. Follow the posted schedule when possible, although there will be deviations.

3) Help students make choices, but do not force them to participate.

4) Refocus the student’s attention when needed. Plans will include times for the students to have activities that do not require attention focus.

5) Ask parents whether or not the child likes to be touched. The student may respond to being led rather than being given verbal directions, and repeating directions that are not followed can cause sensory overload. Learn how to lead a person with autism instead of repeating instructions.

6) Children with autism avoid establishing eye contact. Say, “Look at my nose while I am telling you something important.”  If necessary, repeat the phrase once while pointing to your nose.

7) Never pretend you understand something if you don’t. Ask the student to repeat or use the picture board, sign or gesture.

8) Give only one direction at a time. Conflicting or repetitive directions cause sensory overload.

9) Notice when students are behaving or participating and praise them. Accentuate the positive, and praise little victories. Celebrate.

10) When giving directions or requests, some leaders tell students what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you have told them, and have them tell you what you just told them.  Try it.

11) Provide breaks in activities and use variety in activities.

12) Avoid abstract ideas. Most students are concrete thinkers and very literal in their understanding of what you say.

13) Use the timer for taking turns only when necessary.

14. Know that students often do “parallel learning”, that is, they learn from what is going on around them even though they are not actively involved with the group. For example, a twelve-year old child may be crawling on the floor chasing a toy car, but he is learning from what he observes and hears. The evidence is that at a later time he may repeat what was said, ask a question about it or rush to a table and quickly finish a project.

15) Discover food allergies and monitor snacks carefully. Students who cannot swallow can often, with parent permission, eat applesauce or pudding. If the group does food projects such as making sandwiches it is important for those with allergies to NOT touch the food. Plan food that is more inclusive.

16) Look for individual or group holy moments to celebrate at any time. Naming the moment and celebrating it, teaches a student that God is active and recognized in everyday life.

17) Get help in understanding students who are fragile or who need an intervener, and try not to accept an assignment with those needing specialized help until your have been given instruction. For example: Students who are blind are best served when all nametags have objects attached that can be felt and identified for each person.  A non-hearing student may use equipment or a picture board.

18) Watch leaders to learn how they discern or prevent meltdowns.

18) Watch out! You are going to enjoy this job more than you ever thought possible.


You may be gifted in music!  Please offer your personal talents to a group. A few pointers will help you transfer your leading music skills to a special needs group.

Music involves repetition, emotional attachment, expression of feelings, and it is a means of recall in a later situation, so you can see that it is one of the greatest teaching methods available.

Remember that music comes from the heart, is not necessarily sung or chanted. Find a way to help each student express praise and joy such as humming, clapping, foot stomping to rhythm, scarf waving, whispering or shouting a given expression.

Remember that our students are literal thinkers and theology is being taught in song.

Tips for using music:

  1. Use music that is related to the teaching theme. Add others for fun.
  2. Repeat the same music often.
  3. Learn to line out music! Assume nothing. Teach words by telling a line. Have students repeat the line. Continue to the end. Play the melody while students listen. Again, tell one line and sing that line. Stop. Tell next line, and sing that line. Stop. Continue to the end by lining out.  There are many ways to teach a song including drumming or clapping the rhythm. For persons who cannot use hands to clap or drum, put an object (bells, tambourine, streamer on a stick, or any noise maker) in a hand and help that person shake the rhythm.
  4. Learn a line-and-cheer system. Sing a line and have students do a designated cheer when you pause.  If the song is about love, for example, they might shout the word love. Try it again and instead of shouting the word, have them whisper the word. For a non-speaking child, place an object in a hand and help them shake the object when others are speaking. This is their way of speaking and participating. With advance planning, a voice box can be programmed to cheer or say appropriate words. Some students who cannot sing words can be taught to hum.
  5. Recruit a student to stand in front to lead the song after teaching a song and repeating it. This may take several sessions.
  6. Welcome students to the room with background music that you use later in teaching the song.
  7. Avoid playing a song with the hope that children will join in unless the song is very familiar. They may dance around (if that is what you want) but they may not learn the song that way. However, there’s nothing wrong with that joining in.
  8. Help students catch your joy.

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