Posts Tagged ‘children’

Sibling visits to the NICU can be helpful

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Sibling visits baby in NICUPrematurity affects everyone, including siblings. When older children have a sister or brother in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) they sense their parents’ concern and worry, and their lives are thrown off balance. Siblings of a preemies go through their own NICU journey of sorts – from experiencing anxiety, worry and frustration to happiness and joy. However, there are some steps you can take to help your older children through the ups and downs of the NICU experience.

If your baby is in the NICU, it may be possible for your other children to visit. Ask the head nurse of the NICU if the hospital allows this and if your preemie is strong enough for the visit. Often, seeing their baby brother or sister in the NICU helps older children understand what is happening and to realize why mom and dad are not home as much. Even a short visit can help put the situation into perspective. Visiting can also make siblings feel like they are a part of the journey and that they are helping out.

But, NICUs can seem scary to children, and seeing a tiny baby hooked up to monitors and tubes can be terrifying. Here are ideas (some from the Preemies book) to help make the visit successful. In all cases, get the permission of the NICU staff first:

• Have your older children send in a toy or drawing ahead of the visit, and display it prominently near your preemie’s bed. When your children arrive, they will see their presence and will feel an immediate connection.

• Describe your baby’s condition to your children before the visit. Perhaps show them a doll that is about the size of your preemie, so they are not too surprised when they see their tiny sibling.

• If it is possible, allow your children to touch the baby. Touch helps to establish a bond. Of course, the NICU nurse will tell you if this will be allowed or not, depending on your baby’s current medical condition.

• Ask if your children can talk, read a book, or sing a song to the baby (softly). It will give them the feeling of doing something positive to help.

• Ask if your hospital has a NICU Family Support Program. The March of Dimes partners with many hospitals in the United States. Such programs comfort and support families, including siblings. Some hospitals also have a corner where siblings can play as they wait while their parents visit. They may even meet other siblings in this play space, and be able to share their feelings with other kids who understand what they are experiencing.

There is no doubt about it – having a baby in the NICU is a difficult journey for the whole family. Hopefully, short visits will help your other children to understand, feel included and “help out”, which will in turn, lessen the mystery of having a little brother or sister in the NICU.

Additional information and support for families with babies in the NICU can be found at Share Your Story, the March of Dimes online community for NICU families. Also, see this blog post for helpful info on a father’s role in the NICU.

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. View the Table of Contents of all posts in the series. We welcome your comments and input.

If you have questions, please send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Updated June 2017.

Have you found your child’s passion?

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

building with blocksWhen you have a child with special needs, your mind tends to always center on the milestones you hope your child will achieve, and often forget that there are many things your child can already do, and often do very well. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in therapy and homework. Often, you only see the areas that need improvement, and don’t see (for lack of time or energy) the areas of talent or achievement. (Does this sound familiar?) When this happens, it is time to pause and breathe. And better yet, change your focus to take time to celebrate.

My daughter always loved to dance – you name the kind -she did it. Then that passion moved to drama, which is where she really found her niche. As a tiny tot, she used to memorize the dialogue to different shows or movies, and then act them out with her dolls, word for word. Later in high school, she joined the theater troupe. For a kid who had a speech and language delay, seeing her speak on a stage (often reciting Shakespeare), was mind boggling to me. Theater was her passion, and despite any struggle she was experiencing at the time, her dancing or theater pulled her through, and ended her day on a happy note. Even now, as she is a young adult, she participates in community theater productions.

Keep introducing your child to new things

All children have interests and passions. Does your child take things apart and then put them back together? He may be mechanically inclined. Does he build spectacular Lego cities and characters? He may become an architect or builder one day. Does your child dress in awesome couture-like outfits, draw, paint, play an instrument, enjoy storytelling, or participate in sports? You get my point – the list is endless and the possibilities are limitless. If you do not see a passion at the moment, keep introducing her to new things and watch as one emerges.

Very oftwatering flowersen, your child’s passion can be cultivated so that it becomes more than just a pastime. But even if it doesn’t become something more substantial, the accomplishment of any hobby or interest is something to celebrate. Cultivating a talent is a process. Like a flowering bulb pushing up through the spring earth, one doesn’t know what color the blossom will be, or how big or sweet the smell. You just have to water it and give it sun and protection, and then watch as it blooms on its own.

So, this is a gentle reminder to pause, breathe and focus on the positive moments in your little one’s life. Then, sit back and enjoy the moment as you see your little one in a whole new light.

What is your child’s passion? How did you help her to find it? Please share your tips.

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need,  select “Help for your child” on the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). You can also view a Table of Contents of prior posts. We welcome your comments and input.

If you have questions, please send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

 

 

Toys glorious toys!

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

playing with toysAt one time, parents did not have many options to find appropriate toys for a child with a disability or developmental challenge. Nowadays, it is possible to find just the right kind of toy for your child’s individual needs. She can play at her own level and be a very happy camper.

What child does not love toys? It seems to me that the word “toy” is synonymous with “child.” It is hard to separate the two. At this time of year, there is a seemingly endless variety of toys available. Yet, for parents of a child with special needs, it can seem hard to find toys that are appropriate for your child’s condition.

Fortunately, a simple internet search for “toys for kids with special needs” will yield multiple sites that feature toys for children with physical or cognitive challenges, speech and developmental delays, hearing or vision impairments, sensory disorders, issues related to autism and learning disabilities. You can find everything from sensory swings to board games with larger print. You will not be at a loss to find the right toy for your little one.

When searching for toys by age group, remember to keep your child’s adjusted age in mind if he was born prematurely. And, see this post for other tips on shopping for toys kids with special needs.

This year, let your fingers do the searching and find the perfect gift for your child with special needs. The hours of fun your child gets from a toy that is right for him will give you hours of joy!

 

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – How to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need, select “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. You can also view a Table of Contents of prior posts.

Feel free to ask questions. Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

roller-coaster-rideAll children have their highs and lows, but for children with special needs, the extremes tend to be more extreme.  The typical ups and downs of childhood have higher highs and lower lows.

The lows

It is hard to watch your child be frustrated because she can’t do the things that her peers can do. Your child’s frustration may take the form of crying, meltdowns or sadness (depending on your child’s age). When you stop to think about it, it seems very reasonable. Adults react much the same way. But, with toddlers or children, they don’t have the maturity to understand their condition, or the patience to wait until they acquire certain skills. In many cases, they may never acquire the same skills as their peers. Thus, the lower lows.

Along with the lower lows come the “two steps forward and one step back” type of progress that is so common among children with special needs. This is so frustrating – for a parent and especially for the child. You tend to feel like you are on a roller coaster ride – no sooner do you get up in the air and are so happy about progress, when you take a bit of a plunge and feel low again.

The highs

On the flip side, the highs are much higher. When your child achieves a milestone that she had been struggling with (that comes easily to her siblings or her peers), the happy dance is much more jubilant! You celebrate each and every accomplishment, no matter how small. The small steps are big steps to a child with special needs. In fact, every step is a big step. The joys of watching your child inch forward has a much more intense meaning.

Progress is a wiggly line

What has helped some of the parents I know who have children with special needs is realizing that it is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to pace yourself and look at this as one long journey. You may get lost or a little off track now and again, and even need to take breaks to re-fuel or get new directions. But, overall, you will stay on your path and get to your child’s unique destination…eventually. It is important to remember that you need to look at progress as a kind of wiggly line. Look at the overall progress, not minute to minute progress.

Bottom line

Remember that this path has its uniqueness and gifts, too. After all, if we were all the same, this world would be so boring. Try to look past what your little one can NOT do, and focus on what she CAN do. Then, all of the prospects for her future brighten up considerably.

 

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Everyday tips for dealing with sensory special kids

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

hair washingMany kids with sensory issues struggle with typical everyday activities. Here are suggestions from parents of children with sensory difficulties to help you get through each day in a sensory friendly way. Some kids find bath time and hair washing to be a stressful experience. For other children, getting dressed in the morning or eating meals can be incredibly challenging. Yet others cringe at hearing typical sounds or noises. Here is what some parents recommend:

Tips for bathing

•   Let your child get in the bath when the water temperature feels right to him. He may need to stand in it a while before sitting down, in order to adjust to the feel of the water on his skin.

•    During hair shampooing, use a little pail or plastic bucket to rinse hair instead of using the shower nozzle. Water coming from a shower nozzle can be too direct and forceful.

•    When your child is old enough, allow him to rinse his own hair. Being in control of the pail and the water on his own head is less shocking to him than when someone else pours water on his head.

•    Use a facecloth to cover his face if water on the face will cause distress. Then allow your child to wipe his own face with a damp facecloth.

•    Use distractions in the bath, such as bath foam or toys, to make bath time more appealing.

•    Let your child decide if showering is preferable to bathing (when he is old enough).

Tips for dressing

•    Remove tags from clothing before wearing.

•    Let your child decide what kinds of clothes feel good on his skin. Usually brushed flannel or soft cotton or acrylic fabrics work well, but your child will know.

•    If your child hates getting dressed in the morning (due to the sensory changes), dress your child the night before in the clothes he will wear the next day. In other words, let him wear his clean clothes to bed. He may look a tad more wrinkled in the morning, but he will get his day off in a sensory calm way.

•    When you find a pair of pants, a shirt or outfit that your child loves (i.e. it “feels right”), buy two of them. This way, one can be laundered when the other one is being worn. Or, buy them in different colors if possible. Comfort – not fashion – is key here.

Tips for eating

•    As much as possible, have healthy choices available. If you know your child loves chicken with pasta, then child using forkmake a double portion. This way you can feed it to him another night in the same week, even if the rest of the family is eating something different. This allows you to eat together as a family and yet you did not cook two meals in one evening.

•    Freeze individual portions for meals on the fly, for the babysitter to serve to him, or when the family meal is sure to be too hard for your child to swallow (literally).

•    Ask your child’s pediatrician or consult with a Registered Dietician who is familiar with sensory issues to learn other ways of getting your child to eat a healthy diet. Perhaps mixing vitamin powder into your child’s food (such as spaghetti sauce) or offering protein shakes will substitute nutrients that your child may be missing.

Tips for sound sensitivity

•    Prepare your child for events that may be uncomfortable, such as large assemblies with people clapping, musical events, a meal in a big restaurant, birthday parties, etc. Soft ear plugs are often helpful to use at these events so keep them handy. Other children prefer noise-cancelling headphones.

•    Once home, provide a quiet environment so your child’s ears can rest.

Learn more

These are just a few tips for getting through a day in a sensory successful way. See my prior posts: Sensory difficulties in children to learn more about the different kinds of sensory problems that exist, and Help for sensory issues to learn about different treatments. Ask your child’s pediatrician if a treatment such as Sensory Integration Therapy (a form of Occupational Therapy) may be helpful. You can also discuss other treatments which are available.

Feel free to share what has worked for you and your child. We’d love to hear from you!

If you have questions, or would like more information, please email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input.

Sensory difficulties in children

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Itchy shirt. Icky foods. Hair brushing is a nightmare. Shoes won’t stay on. Sounds make him cringe.
child dislikes food

Picky child or sensory dysfunction?

Our five senses: taste, smell, hearing, touch and sight help us navigate so much of our world. But for some children (and even adults), their senses are especially heightened and can interfere with daily life in a negative way.

•    Taste and smell
Parents often complain that their child can’t tolerate the taste or smell of many foods. Feeding their child becomes a nightmare. When my daughter was little, she would only eat approximately 10 foods (if that). She did not like the taste or smell of most foods and could not stay in the same room when I was cooking broccoli or another offending food.  She preferred sweets to salty treats, and a vegetable would not pass her lips (she would rather die fighting!).  Even if cajoled or bribed (yes – I bribed her) to eat a new food, she would often gag on it because the taste, smell or texture was too awful for her. As she grew up she would relate that she wanted to eat more foods, and was not happy that she had such a limited range of foods she found acceptable to eat. But, alas, it was not something she could control.

•    Sound
child coveringn earsAnother common sensory complaint is that of a hearing sensitivity. Certain sounds or noises are painful to hear. I am not talking about a rock concert or music being cranked on the highest volume. The bothersome sounds could be the barking of a dog, the crinkling of tin foil, the din of the voices in a cafeteria, the sound of a blender, hair dryer or vacuum cleaner. Typical sounds are abnormally loud to a child with a sound sensitivity and may cause him to cover his ears (at best) or disengage socially (at worst).

•    Touch
Other children are extra sensitive to touch. For example, they hate the feeling of certain clothes against their skin. They dislike getting dressed or undressed, and may have a vast wardrobe but will only wear three outfits! Clothes that are scratchy, have tags or are not soft enough for their skin will be tossed aside.  They may resist going into a bath (or getting out of the bath) due to the uncomfortable sensory changes on their skin. Similarly, applying sunscreen becomes a feat in and of itself.

•    Sight
Lastly, some children are extra sensitive visually. For example, bright lights, flashing lights and the change from indoor light to sunlight can make them close their eyes or head in the opposite direction.

Any one of the above sensory issues can wreak havoc on your child’s life – and yours. Some children have difficulties with more than one sense, too. There is debate as to whether sensory dysfunction is a diagnosis in and of itself, or if it is a symptom of a larger diagnosis (such as ADHD, autism, or another disorder). The important thing to remember is that for whatever reason, and whatever you want to call it, these sensory issues are real challenges in your child’s life.

In many cases, these sensitivities may be reduced through occupational therapy (read this post on OT) and through other kinds of treatments. If your child is extra sensitive, speak with his pediatrician and ask if OT or another kind of treatment may be helpful.

Stay tuned for future blog posts on treatment options and helpful hints for the above sensory issues.

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input. If you have questions, please send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

The power of one M&M’s® candy

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

potty trainingTrying to sculpt or change your child’s behavior is easier said than done. But here is a story of how one M&M’s candy changed everything.

Years ago, when my children were very young, I attended a “mommy and baby” parenting class. While the children played, the parents discussed child development issues under the guidance of an early childhood development specialist. Potty training was always a hot topic. Potty training has its challenges – first day-time training, and then night-time training. One mom (let’s call her Lynn), told the story of how she was able to successfully potty train her child at night. Lynn had been successful with getting her son to use the potty during the day, but he refused to get up at night if he needed to use the toilet, and instead he wet the bed.

Her son loved M&M’s, and Lynn often used them (in tiny doses) to reinforce desired behavior. However, she was at a loss as to how to reinforce positive behavior (going to the potty) at night.

Her solution was to place one M&M’s candy on a paper plate, which she then placed on top of the closed toilet seat cover. She showed her son the M&M on the plate before bedtime, and told him if he gets up to use the potty during the night, he could eat the M&M as his reward. The thought of eating an M&M in the middle of the night was simply too appealing to her little son, and much to everyone’s shock, he got up to use the potty. This little guy absolutely loved the idea of knowing an M&M was waiting for him. He got up to use the potty just to be able to get that tiny candy coated chocolate. Such was the power of one M&M.

At first, each time he got up and used the potty at night, he ran into his parents’ bedroom and announced his achievement. But, soon, he would simply get up and use the potty, eat his M&M and head back to his bed.

Needless to say, I was intrigued by Lynn’s story. As I was going through the trials and tribulations of potty training my daughter, I decided to try it. I did exactly what Lynn had done, and my daughter reacted the exact same way as her son, including waking me up to tell me the news of her success. Soon I added another layer to get her to head back to sleep on her own:  I placed one M&M by her bedside to be eaten if she went back to bed without waking Mommy or Daddy. That ploy worked, too.

I have to say, after about 3 weeks of this training, I used to get up in the morning and peek into the bathroom to see if the paper plate was empty or not. I did the happy dance every time I saw that the plate was missing the M&M.  The sense of pride and accomplishment in my child also made me do the happy dance. But, most of all, I could not believe the power of that one M&M. Can you? How could such a tiny bit of positive reinforcement have such an effect?!

Behavior specialists tout the benefits of positive reinforcement as a means of shaping behavior. People love rewards and praise – it is human nature. But as this story proves, the reward does not have to be huge or expensive – often the tiniest rewards have the biggest impact. The key is having the reward be meaningful to the child.

Do you have a story to share of how you shaped your child’s behavior through positive reinforcement? We’d love to hear it.

 

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input. If you have questions, please send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

LDs – What they ARE and are NOT

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

alphabet magnets

There are many misconceptions about learning disabilities (LDs), which often affect preemies. Here is a quick review of LDs – first, the misconceptions, and then the truth.

LDs are NOT…

• the result of laziness.

• caused by a child’s home environment or cultural factors.

• the same as autism.

• the same as an intellectual disability (formerly called “mental retardation.”) In fact, persons with LDs have average or above average intelligence, and some are gifted!

• all the same. There are various kinds and degrees of LDs (mild to severe) and a child can have more than one kind.

• curable, and a child will NOT outgrow them. But they are treatable and most kids that receive appropriate educational interventions and supports overcome obstacles.

• associated with blindness or deafness.

LDs ARE…

• often unidentified or under-identified. Many students (as much as 15%) struggle in school as a result of having a learning disability that is not diagnosed or treated.

• prevalent.  Almost half (42%) of kids receiving special education services are children with learning disabilities. Roughly 2.4 million children in public schools in the U.S. have been identified as having LDs.

• more common in boys. Two thirds of students identified with LDs are boys.

• treatable. Through appropriate educational programs, kids with LDs are able to learn in school and succeed in life.

• brain based disorders, and often co-exist with attention problems.

• often seen to run in families.

The key to success is…

• getting a diagnosis as early as possible.

• getting help and support in place. “Specific learning disability” is one of the 13 conditions that qualifies a child for special education and related services.  (The other 58% in special ed have the remaining 12 qualifying conditions.)

• providing positive reinforcement so that a child’s self-esteem is not damaged.

• understanding your child’s diagnosis so that you can be an effective advocate for him. Arm yourself with information. See prior posts for general info on LDs, and specific info on dyslexia, dysgraphia and even dyspraxia and CAPD (cousins to LDs).

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Source:  Data for this post provided by NCLD’s 2014 publication of “The State of Learning Disabilities: Facts, Trends and Emerging Issues.”

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). As always, we welcome your comments and input.

What are learning disabilities?

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

chld-in-schoolPrematurity can cause problems during infancy, childhood and well into adulthood. The long lasting effects of premature birth can cause delays in understanding, reasoning, speaking and learning. One consequence of preterm birth may be learning disabilities. Learning disabilities (LD) do not only occur in babies born prematurely – they may occur in many babies who are born full term. It is important to learn about LD so that if your child is affected, you will know what to do.

There are different kinds of LD

At some point in your child’s life, he may have trouble with listening, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, reasoning or doing math. But when it becomes more than a temporary or minor struggle, it could be the sign of a learning disability. A learning disability is a problem with acquiring and processing information. It is also called a Specific Learning Disorder. There are different kinds of LD and they can vary from mild to severe.

By definition, an LD child is bright. In fact, he has at least average intelligence, and often well above average, but somehow learning is extra hard for him. An LD child is not lazy or undisciplined – he learns differently. However, without specialized instruction in “learning how to learn,” he can quickly fall behind his peers due to the additional time and effort it requires for him to make strides and stay on track. The amount of effort required to accomplish tasks that his peers can do is off kilter. As a result, your child may become frustrated and exhausted, and if he does not receive intervention, the problem may continue to worsen.

The most common forms are grouped into the following areas:

Dyslexia – difficulty processing language- trouble with reading, spelling and writing
Dysgraphia – difficulty with handwriting
Dyscalculia – difficulty learning math –arithmetic, telling time and word problems

Other forms of LD or related disorders include CAPD (central auditory processing disorder), nonverbal learning disability, visual and motor disabilities, dyspraxia, apraxia and aphasia. A child can have a learning disability in more than one area. Click here to learn more.

A learning disability usually becomes evident when a child is in elementary school, as this is the time when he is required to learn to read, spell, write and do math. In other words, there are suddenly hard expectations put on your child, and his difficulties become much more noticeable. However, the early signs or symptoms of LD may have been present in the preschool years (such as difficulty with counting or rhyming, fine motor skills or listening) so suddenly all those difficult behaviors you noticed back then make sense now.

What should you do?

If you suspect that your child is not learning as he should, speak to your child’s health care provider. Also, check out the National Institute of Health’s discussion on LD to see the possible signs of LD and learn what to do to have your child’s school (or another professional) test him. If your child has a learning disability, beginning intervention (usually through specialized teaching), is critical in helping your child learn how to learn and start catching up. It is also important for self-confidence and overall happiness.

Your child is in good company

Individuals with LD have gone on to become incredibly successful in every walk of life. It is said that the following famous people (along with hundreds of other famous people) suffer from dyslexia or another type of learning disability.

Director Steven Spielberg
Actors Henry Winkler, Whoopie Goldberg, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly and Emma Thompson and Tom Cruise
Comedian Jay Leno
Entertainer Cher
Olympian Bruce Jenner
Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy

I urge you to do your own internet search as you will be amazed by how many accomplished individuals have a learning disability. You can start your search here.

On a personal note

My daughter’s journey includes learning disabilities. (She was born at 38.2 weeks.) She will be the first to tell you that without her specialized schooling she would not be the young adult she is today. Even though she had all 3 of the D’s as well as CAPD, she grew up loving to read and write. (OK, so she still hates and struggles with math…you can’t win them all!) She acted in plays in high school and continues to act in Community Theater productions. She is working on writing a collection of stories for “tweens.”  Her day job is in a preschool as an assistant teacher. The kid that hated school (reading, writing and math), overcame much of her disability to become successful. The key was getting her help early.

Bottom line

There is no “cure” for LD. But, if your child is diagnosed with a learning disability, don’t despair. With the right services and supports, your child with LD can learn. In time, the focus will shift from his disabilities to his abilities. Just get help for him as soon as possible.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.

A social skills tip for kids with special needs

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

2-kids-playing-togetherOften a child with special needs has trouble relating to her peers. The developmental delay or disability may make it hard for her to communicate at an age appropriate level. Moments at daycare, preschool, on play dates or at mother/child play groups may bring stress and anxiety to a child (not to mention loneliness and isolation).

If this is the case for your child, don’t despair. She is not alone. Many children with special needs require help with socializing. It does not come naturally to them. And, if they have a speech or language delay, or another kind of communication challenge, they may feel very frustrated at not being able to talk and play with peers.

What can you do?

Here is a tip that has helped some children I know (including my own daughter):

Many pre-teens or young teenagers love spending time with younger children. Ask a teen from your neighborhood to come over and “pretend” to be a child again, and play with your child. Have her get down on the floor next to your child and build with blocks or Legos, play with dolls, have a tea party, or do whatever your child usually likes to do. (Try to avoid having them sit and watch videos or TV, as that is non-interactive.) Let the teenager engage your little one on your child’s level. Hopefully, your child will take the cues and respond back to her. A teen will be more patient with your child than a peer would be, making it a more successful and fun playtime.

It may take a while to facilitate a relationship, but the goal is for the skills learned with the teen playmate to transfer (in time) to that of children nearer your child’s age. And, the confidence gained at learning how to play and have a conversation will help her when she plays with a child her own age.

Start with short periods of time, such as 15 – 30 minutes. Gradually work up to longer periods. The goal is to get your child to slowly move from parallel play (playing beside another child but not interacting with him or her), to interactive play (when two children talk to each other and play together).

What about social skills classes?

Of course, formalized social skills classes or therapeutic play groups are also great ways to help your child learn to socialize, but often these classes are not convenient or are costly. If your child has an IFSP or an IEP, ask the team about creating specific goals to address social skills. Many times schools will offer social skills classes that include typically developing children and developmentally challenged children in one group. The social worker or facilitator guides the group with fun activities as social skills are learned and mastered.

Bottom line

With any kind of delay or disability, relating to peers can be very challenging. Try giving your child the opportunity to practice social skills with a pre-teen or teenager. The reciprocal skills learned in their play periods may boost your child’s confidence and skill level enough to be able to cross the threshold into successfully playing with her peers. It is certainly worth a try.

What has worked for your child? If you have a tip that was helpful, please share it.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. Go to News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” on the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. As always, we welcome your comments and input.