How to Help Socialize Children with Developmental Disabilities

Children with developmental disabilities often struggle to interact with their peers. Many experience difficulty understanding nonverbal communication such as social cues and body language. It is important to have realistic expectations for your child’s level of socialization because social interaction can induce anxiety more for some children than for others. Some questions to ask yourself when assessing your child’s development and level of comfort in social situations include:

  • socialization Reiter and Walsh How much anxiety does your child cope with on a daily basis (without being pressured to try new things)?
  • What is your child’s educational setting like and how will that impact their socialization?
  • Is your child a visual- or calculation-oriented learner? Does your child prefer to work with pictures or numbers?
  • What is the path of communication between you and your child like?

Typical Behaviors of Children with Developmental Disabilities

  • Repetitive language such as: copying what others are saying from a TV show or in conversation; counting from 1 to 5 in a conversation that doesn’t involve numbers; and introducing themselves every time regardless of how many times they have met the person.
  • Inability to express themselves verbally to caregivers and peers
  • Particular interest in certain subjects coupled with the ability to deliver an extensive monologue about them. Sometimes this is accompanied by an inability to discuss topics conversationally.
  • Highly-specific abilities are exhibited by about 10% of children on the autism spectrum. These abilities can take the form of mathematics, musical talents, memorization or calendar calculation.
  • Inability to remember names, faces, colors and shapes
  • Uneven language development can include having an extensive vocabulary of their favorite subject. Sometimes this may be accompanied by knowing very little or being unwilling to discuss areas they do not understand as well.

Social Stories

Social stories can be a helpful way to plan and show kids appropriate reactions so they can watch them being done and then practice them. A highly effective and well-recommended program is a tablet app called Social Skills Builder by Quality Learning Tools. Other apps for children with speech-language disorders can be found in 9 Apps for Children with Special Needs.

Social Skills Groups

Children with developmental disabilities or autism can benefit from social skills groups, which are social groups tailored specifically towards developing social skills. In Michigan, Judson Center has groups available in Oakland County and Washtenaw County. These groups meet weekly for 1-2.5 hours and focus on children on the autism spectrum working together to improve conversational skills, gain confidence and build friendships. There are many different weekly groups available based on age and interests:

  • Social Zone (ages 6-10): A one hour a week group designed for children who have basic social and language skills to start moving on to more advanced skills and conversational topics. A good place for children who have aged out of Kids Club and has a 1:5 faculty to child ratio. Costs $320 per eight-week session.
  • Junior Gamer’s Group (ages 11-13): A one hour a week game oriented group to work on improving social skills. The group spends the first 30 minutes having a therapeutic component such as anger management or anxiety reduction and then the second half of the session they’ll play board games, online games, card game, or video games. The group is designed for children who have basic social and language skills with room for improvement and has a 1:5 faculty to child ratio. Costs $320 per eight-week session.
  • Social Skills Game Group (ages 13-18): A one hour a week group designed for teens to learn social cues through games and role-playing. Costs $250 per eight-week session.
  • Gamer’s Group (ages 13-18): A one hour a week group for teens to play video games such as Pokemon, Minecraft that also has a different therapeutic component each week. This group is designed for children with basic social skills and conversational language skills and has a 1:5 faculty to child ratio. Costs $320 per eight-week session.
  • Friday Nights Out (ages 16-24): On Friday Nights from 6-8:30 pm teens and young adults venture to various places of their choice each week while allowing them to practice social and life skills in a community setting. Parents provide transportation to and from the event. Costs $25 per event plus activity fee.

In addition to the groups that meet weekly, the Judson Center also hosts Kids Night In/Parents Night Out, where parents can drop off their children for a few hours to watch movies and play games with friends while they go on a date night. In combination with Kids Night In/Parents Night Out, the Judson Center also offers Sibshop, where siblings ages 5-11 can participate in activities with their sibling who has disabilities. Through games and discussion, they find out how to strengthen sibling relationships. These workshops are on either Thursday or Friday night and last two hours. Costs $20 for one child, $35 for two children and $40 for three children.


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