"I want him to be accepted and well-liked by other children."
"Friends: that's what's important!"
"I just want her to be happy and enjoy school."
These are the sentiments of most parents, but particularly those interviewed by researchers of the Early Childhood Research Institute on Inclusion (ECRII). The ECRII project -- conducted by Vanderbilt University, San Francisco State University, University of Maryland, University of Washington and University of North Carolina -- is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. It is designed to identify barriers that preschool children with disabilities and their families may encounter in inclusive programs, and determine strategies for successful inclusion efforts.
Researchers observed preschoolers in their classrooms and communities, talked at length with family members, interviewed teachers and other school personnel, and spoke with administrators of the children's services. Over 100 families participated, sharing creative strategies which encourage social opportunities and friendships for their children both in preschool and in their communities. Many of these ideas may be helpful to other families.
#1: Seize all chances to build on your child's interests.
#2: Include siblings, cousins, and potential friends in everyday routines.
#3: Organize special play opportunities, such as birthday parties.
#4: Encourage social contact with peers in multiple settings.
#5: Act as facilitator for your child's social interaction.
#6: Plan play activities that attract two or more children.
#7: Develop a fun relationship with kids who live in your neighborhood.
#8: Develop friendships with parents at your child's preschool.
Giving children opportunities to get better acquainted with others and devising the means for them to share experiences helps build friendships. Parents and other caregivers can help initiate and expand opportunities for children who are shy, less active, or present behavioral challenges, to become engaged with others.
Involving children in activities where they have a chance to meet others with similar interests and experiences will expand their opportunities to make friends and have social interactions. When families work together in partnerships with their school, neighborhood and community, there is no limit to the creative ways to encourage friendships.
By Marci J. Hanson, Maria Morgan, Sonya Gutierrez, Deidre Barnwell, and Paula Beckman. Excerpted from Exceptional Parent magazine, May 1997. Pictures are provided by Voorhees Pediatric Facility, Voorhees, NJ.