It is said that a friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you. People like this are not easy to come across and yet are needed to spice our existence. The role of a friend is even more profound in the life of a special-needs child because a special child can often be subject to ridicule and teasing; having a friend without special needs with them reduces the chances of being picked on. Peer friendships allow special kids to bond with individuals other than family members and this helps open their worlds, boost their self-esteem and even help them develop. Children want to have friends, but those with special needs have some obstacles to overcome. Some children are shunned because of physical differences while others have social and communication deficits that make it hard to start and keep friendships. Finding meaningful friendships should be a priority for parents or carers of children with special needs.
Parents or carers should understand how their child’s personality works. This can help them identify their child’s interests and find others who like similar things- video games, toys, football and help them share and communicate about the common interests. It is important to note that as much as caregivers would like their children to play with other children in their age group, this is not always possible due to a child’s particular deficits or lack of willing mates. Interaction with different aged children should be encouraged; a child might enjoy the big brother or sister role with a younger child which gives them a sense of responsibility. Friendship with special kids benefit the normal kids as this helps them to be more accepting and appreciative of individual differences as they grow; it sharpens their communication skills, teaching them how to better interact with others. Other children with special needs should also be sought out by caregivers; having friends who are going through the same issues and might have similar challenges is also helpful.
In their search to find friends for their children, parents and caregivers might run into rejection. There will be parents that won’t be comfortable having children with special needs playing with theirs; this should not deter parents and carers of special children from continuing their search for friends for their children. It is also the responsibility of parents to help their children identify when the relationship is not working.
-Peter Akinbobola (Physiotherapy Student on internship from UCH).