Do you want your special needs child to participate in our world? This is an important question for parents to consider, even if your child is still a toddler. Often, parents get overwhelmed in working to find programs, get therapy and cope at home and don’t give much thought to the future. But the foundations of future success start early in life.

Schools talk about mainstreaming for special needs children. Usually, they have children from self-contained classes join with non-handicapped peers in gym, art or music.  Just putting handicapped and non-handicapped children in the same space will NOT be successful in socially integrating these groups! It is not a matter of being together. Having them together with no preparation also gives opportunity for negative interactions.

Preparation for your child should begin very early in life, regardless of your child’s diagnosis. Here are the beginning steps:

  • Make sure your child is noticing people in the environment. When grandparents come to the house or older siblings come home from school, make sure your child looks at them and is aware of their presence.
  • Don’t let your child be self-directed. To learn social interaction, they have to be “other” directed. The best way to start is to be sure your child is parent directed at various times during the day.
  • Children need to learn to respond when spoken to. They need to learn to alert to your voice or their name. Insist that they respond the first time you speak to them.
  • Teach your child to respond to the presence of other children. Make them notice, look at and attend to other children.
  • Do not let them get into the habit of social interaction by annoyance. These are children who go from sibling to sibling (or adult to adult) and solicit attention by interfering with activities or annoying others. This is a hard habit to break and will prevent any positive social interaction.
  • Teach and insist on appropriate behavior. Integration will not work if your child’s behavior is markedly different from the other children’s.

Begin working on these steps now. I realize that this plan involves a lot of parental time.  However, without these steps, your child will not be able to function in the wider world.