Guest Author - Vicki McCarthy
It can be very difficult for a child with special needs within the special education system to make friends and to maintain friendships.
In fact generally it can be difficult for any child to make friends. We all remember how it was at school and the peer pressure that most of us experienced. However in todayís changing times that peer pressure is increasing and the feeling of having to conform, fit-in and be just the same as everyone else, is at an all time high.
So how do we ensure that children within the special education system who are different make new friends and maintain their existing friendships?
Well it begins with us, the adults. We all have a responsibility as parents and educators to ensure that special needs children are a part of a welcoming social group with their peers and not just on the fringes waiting to be accepted. We can tell children anything and they might listen. But children never truly learn from what we say but they always learn from what we do. Therefore itís up to us to lead by example in all our interactions with other adults and children, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what difficulties they may have.
Teaching staff have a huge responsibility not only to teach the school curriculum but for helping to develop childrenís social skills. However due to the emphasis on academic excellence very often the social aspect and the very basics of friendship often need to be neglected due to time constraints and results oriented school systems.
So while it can sometimes be difficult, in order for the students within a classroom to befriend a child with special needs, it is important that teaching staff and other staff members build a good relationship with that child and the other children within the classroom will often follow suit. Also children sometimes forget to be kind and loving to others (as we all do) and so we should give them small reminders often.
A great way to teach friendship skills to every child in the class is to adopt a ďbuddy systemĒ, where each child who is struggling/has difficulties, is introduced to a friend or two who will be there for them at recess and lunchtimes. Not only can this help the child with special needs tremendously, it can also give the other children a real sense of purpose and give them the opportunity to develop compassion and acceptance in their truest sense.
Parents often struggle watching their child with special needs, hover on the periphery and not be truly involved in interactive play with other children. As a parent, a way to help your child develop friendships with their classmates is to take the time to get to know other parents. Invite their children around for play dates either at your home or even arrange to meet at the park.
However, it can be tiring being the one who makes all the arrangements and you may feel that you are always having to have children at your house rather than your child going to other peopleís homeís. But for some people the concept of looking after someone elseís child with special needs can be a frightening experience. Itís not usually to do with discrimination but fear about not knowing what to do should any problems arise. It can often take time to develop them but with patience and persistence, lasting friendships can be formed with both the adults and children.
Iíve always been of the opinion that I would rather see my own child leave school with a solid group of friends rather than a bunch of qualifications and no friends. Itís only once you leave the school environment yourself and begin to make your way in the world that you realise the skill that takes you much further in life than any qualification, is your ability to interact with others in a loving and respectful way. Letís teach this to all our children.