Important friendships can be formed in elementary school to help your child navigate his entire school career. Social inclusion is critical to all kids with a disability — it doesn’t matter if your child is in a learning support, life skills or inclusive regular education classroom.
If your child has a paraprofessional, he or she should be trained to help in facilitating social relationships throughout the school day. The paraprofessional should also know when to fade out during group activities so the child can be matched up with a peer.
It’s important to find out what’s happening during lunchtime and recess to determine if your child is interacting with others. If you find that that there’s difficulty developing friendships, consider having your speech therapist push in during lunchtime to facilitate communication with peers. Your school guidance counselor may also have a “lunch buddies” program that allows for a select group of students to eat together and develop friendships in a more intimate, quiet setting.
Some parents may speak to their child’s class about Down syndrome, their child’s likes/dislikes and the best ways they can play and socialize together in school. You can also write a letter to the parents in your child’s class as a follow up letting them know what you discussed with the kids and offer to answer any questions the parents may have. This may open the door to communication and future play dates.
It’s important that you don’t sit back and wait for your child to be invited to play. You need to put yourself out there! Offer to host a play date with the friend in the class that your child bonds with most at school, or meet at a park or find a fun activity you might be able to do together. Get to know other parents and help those parents get comfortable with your child.
Finally, get involved in extracurricular activities with typical peers such as Scouts, recreational sports, faith-based youth groups, etc., to expand your child’s social network.