Humans are social creatures!  We all needs friends and opportunities to socialize and have fun. Our special needs kids are no different than anyone else.  They need to develop meaningful relationships with others too, but they may require a little help in making and maintaining friendships. Having friends is an essential part of maintaining good mental health and living happy and fulfilling lives! In fact, people who have friends actually live longer than those who don't!  Who doesn't want their children to live long, happy, and fulfilling lives?!

Parents of special needs children will probably need to work a little harder in helping their kids cultivate and keep friendships going than parents of typically developing children do.  Our kids may actually need to be taught how to be a good friend! Below are some strategies parents of special needs children may want to consider in their quest for helping their children find and keep friends.

• First I recommend role playing with your child about how to treat their friends. Reading social stories could be also included in these lessons.

• Be sure to insist that social skills training be included in your child's IEP, and then make sure that it actually gets done! 

• Invite kids from your child's class at school or place of worship over for supervised play dates/lessons.

• Get your special little someone involved in community sponsored special needs social activities such as Special Olympics, clubs, special needs dances, dance classes, art classes, or special needs sports activities. 

• If possible do not entirely rule out including your child in the same classes, clubs, and activities that their typically developing peers are attending as well!

• If you feel that your child might need a little more help making and keeping friends try enrolling him or her in a special needs social skills club where he or she could get in some practice 'being social” with his or her peers in safe and supervised environment.  Your child is sure to gain some valuable social skills while also having fun and making friends!

• If you feel that your child needs a more professional and structured approach to learning social skills you might even want to consider consulting with a licensed and trained behavioral therapist who specializes in such matters. 

One on one social skills therapy sessions with an experienced and successful therapist could prove to be very beneficial in your child's quest to make and maintain friendships! My daughter Bethany has been attending Flash Club, a social club for children who have autism at our local YMCA for quite a while now.  She greatly looks forward to playing basket ball, swimming, and dancing with her friends every week. 

In fact, club is her favorite part of the week! She even has a “boy friend” at club! We are hoping to one day take her club relationships one step further by setting up get-together's with some of the other children outside of club! Bethany has gained a bonus skill from attending Flash Club. 

As a result of the activity changing every eight weeks, she has gradually learned to process, accept and adapt to changes in her routines and plans. She has generalized this very important skill into other areas of her life as well! How ever you choose to handle it, helping your child make and maintain friendships is one of the best things you could ever do for your child!

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