Children with special needs could almost always use a little help in the friendship department. They might have difficulty with communication or conversation, feel afraid of how other children will accept them, or just plain don’t know how to relate. As a parent, you can greatly enhance your child’s life by offering a bit of social engineering.
“I like ants. Do you?”
Children on the autism spectrum, especially those with Aspergers Syndrome, often have particularly narrow interests which are hard to draw other children into. I recently read about a child with Aspergers who had a fascination with ants. He owned ant farms and knew a lot of interesting facts about their behaviors. He tried sharing his ant hobby with students in his class, but was treated with polite reticence. He was able to temporarily gain their focus, but only in the way a presenter at an exhibit might draw in curious onlookers. He could not seem to maintain relationships that were lasting and meaningful.
His parents were eager to help the boy, who really wanted to connect with others but just couldn’t. With a little research, speaking to special education district personnel, and a few phone calls, they were able to find a child with Aspergers not far away who had the same level of interest in ants and insects. A meeting for the two boys was arranged by their parents, and something wonderful happened. A friendship was born. The two boys, using their ant hobby to fuel their bond, began to automatically build their conversation skills as they spoke excitedly about what they knew. They began to take turns, listen to each other patiently, share, and initiate activities like mini-excursions to search for ants. Finding a child with similar interests to those of your son or daughter could be a very important bridge to the friendship gap.
A Buddy Hunt
Another way to assist your child with making friends is to make use of “buddy” or “peer tutor” programs available at the school. Today, I signed up my son Kyle for a “Buddy” program at his new high school, where an exemplary student is assigned to befriend and watch out for him. It’s somewhat different from a peer tutoring program where the primary focus is to help the child academically. This program is geared specifically toward promoting friendship for kids with special needs. It will provide Kyle with the opportunity to spend time with someone his age who can model good conversation and appropriate behavior in social situations. Kyle is such a likeable guy that I’m sure it will go well.
You might also try contacting the society associated with your child’s condition to ask for help or to see what social activities are being sponsored. My two sons with juvenile diabetes are regularly invited to picnics and parties sponsored by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Kids who have rare syndromes or obvious physical differences can benefit greatly from exposure to other kids in similar cirumstances, even if they live far apart. Visits could be arranged or saved up for, and a penpal relationship could foster writing skills while creating a bond. It will take a little scheduling, or engineering, on your part.
“Back off, Mom!”
The hard thing about being your child’s social engineer is knowing when to back off. We need to assist our kids, but we also have to stand back and let them venture out on their own. It takes courage for these kids to make new friends, and we must exercise courage in allowing them to do so.
You can read more articles about improving your child’s social skills by clicking here:
Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here. Some links on this blog may have been generated by outside sources are not necessarily endorsed by Kristyn Crow.