Did you read last week’s disturbing Globe and Mail article about kids with special needs being isolated? Researchers at the University of Windsor, found that 53% of kids with disabilities have no friends. Outside of formal settings such as school, kids with special needs spend less than two hours a week with peers. In the study, parents and kids said that the isolation was far more painful to live with than the physical or developmental challenges themselves.
Honestly, I’m not surprised by this study. As parents, we can advocate for our kids, arrange therapies and sign them up for programs. But helping our kids make friends is much harder to do.
Most of Talia’s friendships are with people who also have special needs. With one girl, Talia likes to cruise the mall and go out for fast food. With a certain cute young man, Tal likes to go to the movies on the weekend.
Since Talia thrives on keeping busy, she does adapted skiing, Friday Friends and a fitness class for teens with special needs. Yes, all of these are segregated. However, she sees friends and enjoys a program presented at a level where she can succeed.
As for mainstream recreation, Talia attends a weekly youth group for "typically developing" teens at the Y. In the summer, she also goes to a "mainstream" sleepover camp. With these friends, Talia often communicates by email and Facebook. But these friendships rarely progress beyond the program or beyond the computer.
Really, I think that our kids, like us, need a variety of friends. I adore my girlfriends who have kids with special needs. But I also cherish friends I see at choir, at knitting and at my writers’ group meetings. None of them have kids with special needs.
The study says that friendships are the most important factor for mental and physical health. Our kids want and deserve friends. And they long for a phone call, a text or a Facebook message inviting them out. But too often they are the kids that don't get invited to birthday parties, to playdates or to trips to the mall. Those invitations are pure gold.
Do you think your kids with special needs are socially isolated? What advice do you have for others?
Photo by vastateparksstaff via Flickr