Let’s Play…Inclusive Friendships

As more and more children with disabilities are included in our schools, communities and churches, there are even greater opportunities to celebrate one another’s differences.  For a child, friendships can be one of the most rewarding aspects of their lives. Friendships are beneficial to a child—they boost confidence and competence. Friendships help foster social, intellectual and emotional development.   Having a circle of friends opens up new ways and opportunities for a child to experience the world. Friends walk through life with us during times of great joy and challenges. They become our greatest cheerleaders, coaches, counselors, confidantes and clowns and add such value to our life. Why, then, is it so hard for children to be friends with a child with disability, and what can we do as adult leaders in our homes, communities and churches to facilitate and encourage inclusive friendships so children of all abilities  are laughing and playing with one another?

I recently read a post by a special mom titled “My Child’s Dream: To Have Friends”. I was so saddened by some of the statistics cited in reference to the loneliness felt by many children with special needs, troubled by the isolation felt by many. Some had no friends or very limited time with friends. Only one  percent of children with disabilities spent an hour a day with a friend.

The biggest barriers to fostering inclusive friendships, those between typical children and children with disabilities, are not physical barriers but more the barriers of attitude or condition of heart. It is clear that we as adults have great influence on how we respond to and include those with disabilities. Children are always watching us, and we as adults have great impact on how children accept and relate to those who are different. We have the ability to facilitate environments and situations that foster inclusive settings in our schools, churches and community by doing the following:

  1. Believe disability is normal, and God made all children in His Image.
  2. Teach disability is natural.
  3. Become an expert on a particular child, NOT his/her disability.
  4. Be comfortable in the world of disability.
  5. Provide adaptive equipment, so all can play or engage in the activity.
  6. Plan activities children of all ability levels enjoy.
  7. Create time for socializing and connecting.
  8. Encourage collaboration and teamwork.
  9. Teach taking turns and social skills through game playing, such a back and forth games.
  10. Identify a child’s strengths and areas of interest, and incorporate those into programming.
  11. Pair up peers with similar interests or strengths.
  12. Facilitate opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and interactions.
  13. Model appropriate play and interaction; be the role model.
  14. Teach non-verbal communication strategies to typical students.

By being intentional in our efforts to model inclusion, we help foster friendships for all children; and by doing so, we help all to experience the joy of laughter and play.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15 – NIV)

One Comment

  1. “The biggest barriers to fostering inclusive friendships, those between typical children and children with disabilities, are not physical barriers but more the barriers of attitude or condition of heart.” Right on the money! Well said.

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