Parents know that having friends is one of the most rewarding aspects of a child’s life. Parents of children with disabilities want their children to be loved, feel a sense of belonging, and share similar experiences with their siblings and other children.
Research supports what parents have always known – that friendships are beneficial to children. Friendships boost a child’s social competence, self-esteem, and confidence. Friendships support social, emotional, and intellectual development. Having a good friend means sharing fun times and difficult times. A good friend can offer comfort and connection through words, gestures, or silence. A group of friends can provide a wonderful and important opportunity for a child to fit in and to be accepted.
Children with disabilities may need extra support from adults to play and make friends. Sometimes children with disabilities are at risk of having social interactions only with adults who are paid to be with them (such as teachers, therapists, and doctors). All children need to play and interact with other children. Parents, caregivers and teachers can play a key role in teaching young children how to make friends with children with and without disabilities. Although some friendships develop naturally, it is important to teach children specific social skills and provide many different kinds of opportunities for friendships to develop.
Help expand your child’s social circle by:
By building on your child’s strengths, preferences and interests, you can help him make friends with peers who enjoy the same things. Identify and encourage activities that keep your child’s attention, bring out the best in her and bring a smile to her face.
Find out what classes or programs are available in your community. Many communities offer a variety of weekend or after-school classes such as swimming, cooking, soccer, horseback riding, yoga, martial arts, theatre, music, dance, or art. Organizations that actively encourage children with disabilities to participate include the YMCA and the Girl Scouts of America. Other community resources include, libraries, parks, and community recreation centers.
It is useful to share information about your child with teachers and caregivers, especially if they have not had experience with children with disabilities. This informal sharing might include specific information about your child’s strengths and preferences as well as strategies that have been successful in the past.
Create different opportunities for your child to connect with other children. For example, some parents have found afterschool buddies or school bus pals for their children by identifying responsible or interested peers in the neighborhood.