Chapman’s Buddy opened the door to friendship, confidence and even musical collaboration

Chapman, age 13, knows what it’s like to feel socially isolated. He’s blind and has a learning disability, which sometimes makes it hard for him to express himself and connect. His dad, Chun, has seen Chapman’s love of piano and support from his Sense Buddy open up his world

My son was born with a rare genetic condition. He’s blind and has a speech disorder, learning difficulties and autism. It’s been heart-breaking for us, as parents, to see the difficulties he’s faced making friends.

We moved to the UK from Hong Kong in 2021, and found that it’s a lot more inclusive here, with more activities that are accessible for Chapman. But the language barrier, on top of his speech disorder, made socialising hard.

His mum, Jing, and I signed him up to Sense’s Virtual Buddying programme. We wanted to give Chapman an opportunity to build a relationship with someone at his own pace and in his own way. The experience of finding a true friend in his Buddy, Gabriella, has been transformative.

Chapman and Gabriella during one of their virtual buddying sessions.

Finding someone who understood

Getting to really understand Chapman and communicate with him takes time. We’d tried group activities with other disabled children, but they tended to be a one-off “hi and bye”. It was difficult to bond, to have a meaningful connection.

That’s why it meant so much to us when Sense matched Chapman with his Buddy, Gabriella. She possessed the patience to engage with Chapman’s unique situation and his thought processes. In the safe and accepting space they shared, Chapman found someone who understood him.

When Gabriella found out that Chapman is a gifted piano player, she dusted off her flute to connect with him more closely. Before this, Chapman hardly ever played music with someone else – so it was astonishing when he and Gabriella started collaborating on songs together!

Something similar happened with maths, a subject Chapman has struggled with. We found that he liked to exercise his mathematical thinking by taking on very specific calculations. So, straightaway, Gabriella introduced games to their session that would keep Chapman practicing his newfound skills. The “maths game” has become one of their favourite activities together.

Since spending time with his Buddy, Chapman is much happier to talk. Before, he was often too shy to speak, even in Cantonese. Now, he almost talks too much!

We’re really pleased with his progress. The sessions have built his social confidence and communication skills, as well as fostering his love of music. It’s shown that there are no limits to what one can achieve when they have a true friend by their side.

Chapman, a young Asian boy wearing glasses and playing the piano.
Chapman at a grand piano, playing music he knows by heart.

Playing the piano has opened up Chapman’s world

It’s really special for Chapman to have found a way to use music to communicate. He’s an incredibly gifted player. When he was just five years old, he taught himself how to play ‘It’s a Small World’ from memory! He hadn’t seen the sheet music; he’d just heard the song on a trip to Disneyland.

His mum and I don’t know anything about music, but we realised early on that he had this skill. Through lessons and nationwide performances, he’s continued to defy the odds stacked against him. Now, he can perform a piano recital for up to 45 minutes with over 20,000 notes, all without reading it.

Piano has long been his passion, but, until Sense, it was something he did on his own, it hadn’t help him overcome his isolation. Sense Buddying introduced a social element to this important part of his life, which has been wonderful. We’re very proud of him.

I think what we can all learn from Chapman is how valuable it is to step outside of your comfort zone and embrace new opportunities. As a dad it brings me so much joy to see my son make a true, meaningful connection with a new friend and I hope this friendship will last a lifetime.

You can follow Chapman on Facebook or YouTube.

Sense Buddies against loneliness

Sense research has shown that more than half of people with complex disabilities feel lonely often, always or some of the time. This compares to just a quarter of the general population. Experiences like Chapman’s show how important it is that we continue to tackle loneliness at every stage of life.

Virtual Buddying

George and Shaanvir chatting over a cup of tea using British Sign Language.

If you or someone you know is looking for new friendships, then sign up to our Virtual Buddying service today. We’ll match you with someone who shares your interests, so you’ll always have something to talk about or do together!

Or perhaps you could become one of our amazing volunteers? Play a part in enabling disabled people to feel included and connected by volunteering as a Sense Buddy.