I have a friend whose son has been diagnosed with autism. He is in the 10th grade. If you met my friend’s son somewhere out in the community, you would not recognize that he has been diagnosed with autism. After you have talked with him, you would think he is different from other teenagers, but you still would not realize that he has autism. One of the many challenges my friend’s son faces is not having any friends. Can you imagine a teenager, a child or even an adult without the support of friends?
For children with special needs, developing friendships is difficult due to their delayed language and social skills. Typically, developing peers do not understand how to play or interact with someone who can’t communicate with them in the same way as their other friends. The good news is there are resources that parents, therapist, teachers, social workers, etc. can use to teach social skills to individuals with special needs along with non-disabled peers.
One program that I am most familiar with is “A Circle of Friends”. This program was developed to help children and teens with special needs develop friendships with non-disabled peers. The program was developed to provide more opportunities for inclusive activities in and outside of the school setting for students with special needs and their non-disabled peers. The program begins by centering around one child or teen with a disability and 2 to 6 non-disabled peers along with an adult facilitator. The group begins meeting once a week within a structured social setting to participate in activities that will develop friendships. The non-disabled peers are trained in how to communicate and interact with the peer with special needs. The long term effect of “A Circle of Friends” is developing and maintaining friendships for individuals with disabilities.
What does all of this mean to you or me? According to the Autism Society of America website, in March 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued their ADDM autism prevalence report. The report indicated that the prevalence of autism had risen to 1 in 88 births in the United States. (http://www.autism-society.org/about-autism/) With these statistics on autism, which doesn’t include the statistics on other types of disabilities, this impacts all of us is in some way. I think it is important to recognize that many families and individuals with any type of disability needs support groups to help them feel included within their community. We should make ourselves aware of how we can help or volunteer in organizations that are supporting families and individuals with disabilities. How can we develop programs in our community or church like “A Circle of Friends”!