Making friends may come easy to some children, but it is typically challenging for children with special needs. As a parent or teacher, it may be heartbreaking to watch special needs children struggle to meet new friends, but there are ways that you can help. Here are some tips to help children with special needs get involved with their peers:
Join support groups.
Children with special needs may feel as if their unique needs make them different from other children, which can lead them to isolate themselves. But, you can help children with special needs understand that they are not alone by signing them up for support groups in your community. In a support group setting, kids with special needs will finally feel as if they belong. The skills that they learn in this setting will help them interact with peers outside of the support group.
Talk to teachers.
If you have a child with special needs, take the time to talk to each of your child’s teachers before the school year begins. Make sure the teachers understand that you do not want your child to be treated any differently than other students unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. If your child is treated differently because of his special needs, other kids in the class will notice. Classmates may become annoyed if your child isn’t disciplined or is given more time to complete assignments because of his special needs. This can lead to a divide within the classroom that will make it difficult for your child to make new friends. Nip this in the bud by talking to your child’s teachers ahead of time.
Set up play dates.
Don’t wait for your child to ask if he can go on a play date—encourage him to socialize by setting up a play date with another kid in his class. Consider your child’s limitations when planning the play date. For example, let’s say your child has a hard time socializing with someone he is not comfortable with. In this case, you may want to plan a trip to the movies since there won’t be pressure to socialize while inside a dark theater. Your child can use this first play date to become more comfortable with the idea of hanging out with his peers.
Sign up for after school clubs.
Does your child love to sing, dance, play sports, or paint? Find an after school club where he can participate in the activities he enjoys the most. In an after school club, your child will get to meet other kids who enjoy these activities just as much as they do. Children with special needs may feel more comfortable socializing in this setting because participating in a fun activity will put them at ease.
Another benefit? Kids often mistakenly assume that special needs kids are unintelligent or incapable of doing certain things. By putting your special needs child in an after school club, he can help shatter this stereotype by showing other kids that he is educated and talented.
It’s important for parents and teachers to remember that what works for one child may not work for another. Each child with special needs is unique, so don’t give up! Try each of these tips until you find one that successfully helps your child interact with his peers.