The number one issue that we hear about from families is their child's lack of friends and meaningful relationships outside of family. This is a great challenge for our kids, especially for those who are often placed in special needs classrooms with children who lack social skills or who shy away from social interaction. Some kids can go for long stretches at a time only interacting with family members or with classmates who cannot reciprocate socially. Here are some ideas that can help:
1. Have social skill building time written into your child's IEP. This can mean time out of their classroom as an integrated member of a mainstream classroom or activity at least one time per day. Use your child's strengths and have them join a classroom of typical children for a portion of each day. Having role models for appropriate behavior and wanting to fit in are the best ways of encouraging productive social skills.
2. You need to be a friend to have a friend. This age old saying is still very much true. Due to the tendency to be self interested it can be difficult to teach the important lessons like generosity, patience and tolerance but with consistency these skills can be learned.
3. Let them get hurt a little. Avoid over protecting their feelings to the point where other kids are afraid to be around them for fear of being constantly corrected. Kids might unintentionally (or intentionally) say something hurtful but let your child be the one to express his or her feelings to their peers.
4. Let your kids pick their friends. You won't like all of their choices but isn't that true for every child? Taking risks, learning through experience and being let down are what teaches us life's most important lessons. A child who is always kept safe and whose choices are made for him or her is a child that will not grow.
5. Ask for help at first. Your child may not be included initially so ask the other moms to have their kids spend time with your son or daughter. It won't be long until they see that despite your child's disability, they are actually pretty fun to hang out with.
The bottom line is that we often separate our kids with very good reason but in order to make and keep friends we need to let go just a little tiny bit. The rewards will be endless.
Manager of PWS Services
Looking for the Right Program
Connections to the Community
The Value of Specialized Placement
"Friendship is a sheltering tree."
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge