Socialization and Friendship

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I came accross the article below, and it reminded me of how important it is to develop skills that help children on the Spectrum become more social, and ultimately, to develop friendships.  I have written in previous posts about how Mike has attended the Helping Hands Behavioral Outreach program http://www.helpinghandschildren.com/HHBO/HHBO.pdf for many years.  As a child in a Special Education program in our district, one that more often than not, struggled to develop its own ‘identity’ and approach, it was very difficult for Mike to learn how to be a kid. 
 
Neurotypical children start building friendships by sharing experiences and liking similar things, and interacting with others in their shared school and after school environments.  Things like sports, music, books, and homework are natural building blocks for socialization and friendships with other kids. 
 
A child on the Spectrum has to overcome his own comfort zones and adapt to these new environments and new people, all while they in turn, figure out what areas this child needs assistance with academically.  This, as you may well know, may take years to develop and discern.  Socialization programs help children focus on communication with others, turn-taking, and being aware that they are part of a group, without the pressure of school work, testing, etc.  Behaviors of each child are observed and discussed with parents, who have incredible input into how they feel a situation should be handled.  Ideal behavior is ‘modelled’ by staff and volunteers alike to show each child should interact with others, building upon their social skills. 
 
Most small groups of similarly-aged children are typically maintained throughout the year to foster continuity; it is hoped that with repeat interactions with each other and enjoying like-minded activities will further bond the kids.  Mike will often not want to go to ‘the clubhouse’ as he calls it, but usually has a good time when he gets there.  He likes to go to planned outings like camping and trips to the nearby hotel’s pool.  We asked him the other day with whom would he rather participate with for Special Olympics: his school team or his clubhouse team.  He chose his clubhouse team. 
 
After all these years, it is still difficult to know if Mike has any real friends; if you ask him, he will tell you their names, some he knows from school, some from Helping Hands, with only a few in both.  This is progress; not so long ago if asked this question, he more likely than not would have named a toy.
 
So, while friendship not yet fully in his grasp, it is clearly still within his reach. 
 
Camp Connect helps teach art of friendship

http://www.fosters.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120318/GJCOMMUNITY_01/703189937/-1/FOSNEWS

What do we want most for our children? We want them to be happy, have meaningful relationships and enjoy life. We want them to be successful but success without friends to enjoy experiences can lead to loneliness and isolation.

But what if you don’t have the basic understanding of the skills necessary to build these socially successful experiences? Such is the case with many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

One of the hallmark characteristics of children with Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Anxiety Disorders, Selective Mutism, Non-verbal Learning Disability and many related challenges is the inability to understand social cues — those cues that help us to understand interpersonal relationships. People with these challenges not only have difficulty noticing the social world around them, they have difficulty interpreting it. Thus, body language, facial gestures, the nuances of communication such as idioms and colloquial phrases, and emotional intent are skills that do not come naturally to these children.

Easter Seals The Family Place recognizes the importance of teaching children the skills necessary to build meaningful social relationships. As such, we are embarking on our 5th summer in partnership with the Works Fitness Center in Somersworth to host Camp Connect. Camp Connect is a 5-week summer camp for children with social challenges. Our Camp Connect Program is a fun educational program very different than those provided by school summer programs.

The purpose of Camp is social pragmatic language enhancement and sensory regulation in an environment created to help children have fun through learning appropriate social interactions and the communication strategies of socialization. The goal is building competency to improve social communication amongst each other and within the community. We include lots of opportunities for practice in natural social situations as each Thursday there is a field trip related to the skills addressed that week.

Our theme this summer is “fun & fitness.” This will enable children to build imagination, problem solving, group dynamics, health, and critical thinking skills in support of academic achievement and fit bodies. We will accept up to 16 students in our Somersworth Camp Connect Program.

Our day is highly structured using picture schedules, visual supports, social stories and a curriculum called Super Flex to help children learn critical social skills. Our approach is always positive when addressing issues that arise relative to transition, anxiety, or overwhelming circumstances. Our purpose is to assist children in learning how to handle all social situations, even those that are overwhelming for them.

Our staff has extensive experience in working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Social Communication challenges. With patience, persistence, practice and support, children can make great strides in learning the Art of Friendship — skills that will carry them forward into a happy life.

To learn more about Camp Connect, please call our office at 603-740-3534. Or please go to our website at www.eastersealsnh.org then click on locations and Dover for more information about all our programs.

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