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Connections & Complex Learners

Strategies to Promote Social Connections Outside of School

As a parent of a Complex Learner, nothing can concern you more than seeing your child struggling to make connections and build friendships. For many Complex Learners, the skills that are needed to forge those friendships don’t come naturally to them. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t want friends. More importantly, that doesn’t mean that they can’t build those skills and strengthen their abilities. 

At Wolf, our classroom teams work hard to build social skills into the curriculum, but this is something you can work on at home, as well! This week, we spoke with Wolf’s own talented Speech and Language Pathologist, Anna Zembo, to learn how you can help your child build social connections outside of school. Read on for our tips!

Help your child make social connections

How can you create and support opportunities for your child to establish and maintain a positive social network?

  1. Find what they love to do

Creating opportunities for your child to have unstructured social interactions with their peers gives them the opportunity to practice the social skills they are working hard to build at school. You can support your child, and help them develop their interests, by enrolling them in programs around their interests – coding clubs, movie clubs, basketball teams, etc. In addition, simple steps like arriving a few minutes early or sticking around a few minutes after any after-school activity can create invaluable opportunities for your child to make connections with peers that are already interested in similar things. 

  1. Find who they love to be with

As a first step, we suggest that you work with your child to identify people they interact with outside of school. Think about who your child sees in after school activities (e.g., cheerleading, swimming, karate, etc.) or community based activities (e.g., volunteer groups, church, etc.). From there, help your child narrow down that list to people they enjoy spending time with. If your child has difficulty identifying these peers, ask them to think about who they share common interests with, who they feel comfortable around, or who they could imagine spending time with. 

  1. Make a plan

Once you and your child have identified some peers they would like to spend time with – make contact! Encourage your child to exchange phone numbers or contact information with their peers or you may feel more comfortable reaching out to their parents to establish contact. Your child may require support in how to reach out to their peers and set up a plan to spend time together at home or out in the community. If your child has difficulty initiating this on their own, support them in brainstorming ideas for activities (e.g., movie night at home, trip to mini-golf, bowling, or any other activity that they’ll enjoy) and making contact. 

Help your student process the social world

How can you support your child in understanding and responding to the social world around them?

  1. Preview & Prepare

Your child may benefit from some preview and preparation leading up to less structured social times. Consider discussing with your child what they can expect before a playdate or planned hang-out time with friends. Your child may also benefit from help brainstorming what to say or do while spending time with friends. 

  1. Process

Discuss with your child what makes friends compatible or a good friend (i.e., ‘Friends are never 100% compatible or the same.’, ‘If everyone were the same person, things would be pretty boring!’, ‘Even good friends have moments of disagreement and conflict’). If your child has difficulty with this concept, provide examples from familiar relationships that have compatibility and incompatibilities. 

  1. Perspective-Taking

Work with your child to discuss both positive and negative social scenarios. If your child has difficulty with this, ask him to think about: Who was there? What did they say or do? What were they thinking about? How do you know? What did they say or do? Is there anything you would do differently in the future? Work with your child to discuss other perspectives, opinions, and intentions.If your child has difficulty with this, ask him to think about: How he would feel or what he would think in that situation? What evidence does he have that supports another person’s perspective, opinion, or intention?

Help your student build their self-advocacy skills

Learn how you can support your child in taking initiative to advocate for their own needs.

  1. Advocate

Support your child in identifying their wants and needs in challenging situations (e.g., conflicts with peers, etc.). Support your child in brainstorming scripts of what he can say and do in situations to advocate for their wants and needs. Support your child in processing situations, both past and present. If your child has difficulty reflecting on situations, guide their thinking by talking through the details of the situation, what he said or did, and what the outcome was. 

Building and keeping friendships can be hard work for everyone, especially Complex Learners. But with practice and time, your child will be able to strengthen their skills and maintain those connections!

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