For individuals at any age, socialization has positive impacts not only on social skills, but also language development, emotional well-being, self-esteem and independent living skills. Not being about to gather with our friends for the past 7 months has been difficult for most of us, but has had a large impact on our children. Many children and teens have stated they “miss their friends” and report feeling isolated, bored and depressed. This is increasingly true for children with special needs and those who have felt disenfranchised from others. For this population in particular, FaceTime and Skpe opportunities may not yet have been successful because the child did not know how to interact in a virtual setting (how do you read someone’s gestures or eye gaze?), or was continually distracted by the lure of a video game or toy. As many parents find themselves struggling to find social opportunities for their children, it is important to keep a few points in mind when considering the options. It is vital that parents finds ways for their children to connect with others through virtual gatherings or virtual groups. While some of this socialization may happen through school, after school programs and enrichment programs have additional benefits, especially for children with challenges such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
- Non-academic, non-competitive opportunities to engage with peers can help boost self-esteem and self-confidence. When kids feel a sense of accomplishment and competence, they feel empowered, which can be reflected in their overall mood and sense of self-worth. This is further reinforced when they connect with others they relate to; finding opportunities for your kids to meet others with similar interests is essential in developing true friendships.
- After school programs geared towards individuals with ASD also provide supportive opportunities for kids to learn and practice social skills and receive direct feedback from professionals. Making progress in social skills one-on-one with a therapist or another trusted adult may be the first step, but the real change happens when kids practice skills with other peers. After school groups and programs offer real-world experiences to practice social skills, with the support of trained professionals.
- The direct training children with special needs receive in virtual social classes provides increased opportunities to find friends with common interests and with similar challenges, so they do not feel so alone, misunderstood or unaccepted. The results of the summer social skills camps offered through THG was that children and teens felt like they weren’t so alone, they weren’t so “different” and they began to spontaneously interact with each other outside of “class time”. Thus, skills were generalized and maintained well after the classes ended. Further, joining in virutal groups and classes broadens the pool of possible friends for your child, as interactions are no longer constrained by proximity. In our social skills programs, we have had attendees from 14 different states at 5 different countries.
- There is added benefit for parents when they attend programs that incorporate parents or caregivers into the sessions. These opportunities offer a safe space for caregivers to ask/share ideas with other caregivers and also receive expert advice from group leaders. As a caregiver, you know your child best, so giving your input on your child’s strengths and weaknesses will only better the outcomes! Similarly, receiving feedback from professionals can potentially help support you and your child in the home.
- Finally, many after-school programs incorporate physical activities which not only are important for maintaining physical health, but also mental health as well. Daily exercise improves sleep, self-esteem, and can provide a productive outlet for energy.
Trying to figure out ways to keep your children engaged at home? Consider enrolling them into Kids Like Me’s Fall 2020 Enrichment Programs!
After-School Enrichment Programs
Beginning October 5, 2020
Designed for young people ages 5-22 with ASD and other social/learning challenges, all offerings will have a special emphasis on social skills development, and last for 8 or 10 weeks. This is a great opportunity to engage, experience, and explore in a safe and welcoming environment in developmentally appropriate classes. CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE or contact Nicole Webb at 818-778-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch this video interview with Dr. Jamie Barstein and Nicole Webb, Program Director of Kids Like Me.
Dr. Jamie Barstein is a licensed clinical psychologist at The Help Group with a specialization in the assessment and treatment of individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities such as ASD.