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We all dream that our children will be social, happy members in their schools and communities. But instead, we find that this is one of the most challenging parts of parenting a child with special needs.

Family Voices reached out to Stefanie Primm, Director and a Community Inclusion Facilitator, of Living Our Visions (LOV Inc.) for suggestions to get children with special health care needs connected to their communities.

LOV Inc.’s Bridge Builder program pairs a young adult (YA) with a staff member to identify personal interests, set goals and make lasting, natural connections to the community. Recently, this program has grown to include younger children enrolled in the Children’s Long-Term Support (CLTS) program.

Where to Begin

There are steps families can take to start building connections that can lead to friendships.

It Starts with Family If you want your child or YA to make friends and connect with others, you need to start letting go and realize that you won’t always be there. This is one of the hardest things parents do. We need to learn to move out of our comfort zone, take a risk and allow someone else to go with our children to parties, activities or community events.

Next Step Look at your child or YA’s current activities. What holds your child’s interest? What makes your child happy? Excited? By paying attention to the pastimes, and environments that keep your child involved, you will know which community activities to look into first.

Stefanie suggests, “Try activities with older people or younger kids, and not your child’s same-age peers. Your child might feel more comfortable. For example, look for a volunteer spot at a senior center or at an event for preschool-age kids. ”

Connect Interests to Your Community

  • Are there classes, clubs, social groups or other school-based activities or events that your child can join?
  • Are there after-school programs, booster clubs or sports leagues in your area?
  • Is there a local agency, like a library or food bank where your child can volunteer or be part of a community event?
  • Are you part of a faith community that has events, gatherings or study groups?
  • Visit a spot where people know your child like a coffee shop, grocery store or YMCA. This is a great way to feel connected and part of the community.

Think about Barriers

There will be challenges with any new activity. The best way to deal with them is to plan ahead. Think about issues like transportation, long-term commitments or fees to participate. Then, think about how these barriers can be removed.

Modifications You want your child to take part in an activity—not be a spectator. To do this you’ll need to ask for modifications, or changes to the way your child can participate in the activity to his/her fullest ability. Following are a few ideas to bust through the most common barriers.

Technology We think about technology when it comes to schoolwork, but there are other ways to use iPads, assistive technology or low-tech modifications that let your child or YA be involved in an activity. For example, one family used audiobooks and an iPad to help their YA to be part of a book club. Another family worked with the school’s athletic department for their son to be a member of a team by using modified equipment.

Try Before You Buy If there is a registration fee, ask the organizers if your child can try the activity to see if it’s a good fit before you pay. Most clubs or sports league organizers are understanding about this.

1-on-1 Support to Participate You’re used to being the one to support your child at events. But instead, could you hire a respite provider or peer to attend the activity? Or, could you ask your school about finding a peer mentor or other friends from class? Read our Friendships and Community Connections fact sheet for more suggestions.

Be Willing to Try, Try Again and Fail Stefanie expressed it this way, “Realize this will take time and patience, and sometimes it won’t work out.” She added, “Start small. Attend a club gathering or recreational activity in the background a few times to see if it might work.”

Think Long-Term If you want your child to be part of the community start by finding a few opportunities to make connections. It may not be easy, but if you start small you’ll find it has its own rewards.






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