When a friendship starts blooming, encourage it as you would any other childhood friendship—with play dates and get-togethers.
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At my daughter’s sixth birthday party, I smiled as I watched her introduce her friend Jackson—whom she had known since she was a toddler—to her new friends from school. Within a few minutes, Jackson was happily playing with blocks while the other kids played racecars nearby. When I noticed that the noise level was starting to make Jackson agitated, I helped him move the blocks to a quieter room and encouraged Laurel to play with him.
When Jackson was diagnosed with autism a few years earlier, I worried about how I would explain it to Laurel. I decided to follow Laurel’s lead and wait for a good opportunity to arise. One day she asked why Jackson didn’t talk to her like her other friends. I explained to her that different things were harder for some people than others, and that talking to people and making friends was harder for Jackson than it was for her. Throughout the years, Jackson’s mother and I had often commented about how much both of our children enjoyed the time they spent together despite their different communication styles.
Both children benefit
When children with special needs and typically developing children become friends at school, church, or through afterschool activities, both children benefit from the friendship. When parents notice the friendship blooming, they should encourage it as they would any other childhood friendship, by setting up play dates and getting the children together outside of school.
If you have any questions, be sure to ask questions of the parent with the special needs child. Most parents are happy to explain their child’s issues and welcome the opportunity to provide information.
Children often notice differences less than adults. “Fostering new and diverse friendships may seem a bit scary, but the truth is that children (both kids and teens) are so much more accepting than we think,” says Dr. Peter Faustino, President-elect of the New York Association of School Psychologists (NYASP).
Kaye Haas remembers how her son, Tim, who has Down Syndrome, would help comfort his typically developing friends on the school bus when they were sad. When one of his friends was sick, he would make a get-well card, and he always remembered his friends’ birthdays. Through the years, Kaye has noticed how much confidence her son has gained through his friendships, and how much he enjoys the time spent with friends.
Encourage the kids to bond over common interests, such as sports, books, and more —>