Everyone deserves to have friends. Children who have special needs are no different from anyone else in that regard. What you may not realize though, is that your non-special needs child will receive as many benefits from the friendship as a special needs child, maybe even more. You may be wondering, how will this friendship benefit my child. I’m happy to tell you.
Children who are considered neurotypical and who spend time with children who are considered non-neurotypical or who have other special needs learn important practical skills. They learn how to get along with people who may think, act, and do things differently than themselves and how to appreciate a different point of view. They practice patience, and as a result, develop empathy and acceptance. Also, children learn that every person — regardless of ability — has value and worth and although they may do things differently, it doesn’t lessen their contribution to society.
At this point, you’re probably saying, “That sounds great, but how do I help my child develop a friendship with a child who has special needs?”
Here are a few tips to guide you.
Teaching Children to Value Their Friends with Special Needs
Be Mindful of the Words that You Use
When you discuss special needs children with your neurotypical children, be mindful of the words that you use. Your children watch and listen to you. The ideals that you value, your children will value too.
Teach Your Children that Children with Special Needs are Just Like Them
Your child’s new friend may not see or hear, or they may act, speak, or move differently. However, just like your child, a child with special needs has feelings, desires companionship, and should be treated with kindness and respect.
Look into Community Programs
See if your community has any special needs sports programs, such as tee-ball or soccer. These activities allow students who would have difficulty participating independently to experience the fun of being on a team. Your child can be a buddy by helping them hit, kick, or catch a ball and run the bases. And having an activity to share will naturally promote friendship.
Find Buddy Programs at Your Child’s School and Church
Check your child’s school and church to see if they have buddy programs. Like in sports, these buddy programs enable neurotypical students to assist students with special needs in reading and writing as well as physically guiding students in activities. This is another great way for neurotypical and non-neurotypical students to socialize and get to know one another. If your school or church doesn’t have a buddy program, now is a great time to start one.
From the moment we’re born, we begin reaching out to others for love, for companionship, and for comfort. As human beings, we’re created to desire connection with others and to be part of something bigger than ourselves. You can help your child look beyond the differences and find similarities. By doing this, you will be showing your child that they can be a part of something much bigger than they ever realized, and both neurotypical as well as special needs children will be learning valuable lessons about friendship and respect.
Check out these special needs books and resources that may help!How to Help the Special Needs Mom in Your Life