As a parent to a child with special needs, it can be tempting to keep them all to yourself. Who else knows what’s best for them than you? This might work for some children, especially those with severe disabilities, but the majority of children need to have an active social life in order to build the skills that are so crucial to human interaction.
Getting your child involved in community activities is a great way to show them a bigger slice of life while emphasizing neighborly interactions and appropriate behavior. It might seem like a daunting task when you first start to branch out with your child, but with enough special modifications and accommodations, your child will be given the opportunity to grow, meet new people and have a little fun in the process!
Here are some tips to help your child with special needs become more involved in the community:
Know your child’s abilities and challenges
We want our children to have a rich, fulfilling life that helps them experience a number of places, hobbies and activities, but this can be tricky when working with a child with special needs. It’s important to first take note of what your child’s disability allows them to do safely, and then modify their environment to fit their needs.
If your child has mobility issues, seek to find handicapped accessible areas in your town, like parks, playgrounds and other venues for entertainment. If you will be bringing your own equipment, make sure there is enough space for your child to safely navigate without issue. Should your child have a condition that doesn’t allow them to tolerate loud noises, be prepared with headphones or earplugs to soothe their worries and provide a smooth community experience.
Ask about kid-friendly activities
A good place to start looking for information would be your child’s school, as they more than likely have activities going on from time to time that your child can participate in. Some schools offer students the chance to be more involved in community service projects, such as a town-wide clean-up day, which can introduce your child to concepts such as working towards a common goal and appropriate peer interaction.
If your child attends a day center or other care facility, ask about community involvement for the children. There might be group outings or specialized events that help your child with special needs become an active participant in local activities.
Check with your local support groups
There are support groups for just about everything these days, and if you’re not actively involved in one, you should consider joining. Not only will you receive the support and motivation you need to parent your child with special needs, you will introduce your child to others who have similar backgrounds and enjoy the same activities.
As part of these groups, there are often activities scheduled so the children can get together and have a bit of fun in a safe, supervised environment. This might include a day carnival, movie night or dance just for your child and his or her peers. It’s a wonderful way to stay connected through parental involvement while benefiting your child’s own social needs.
Contact your local fitness center or club
Most areas have a place where people can go to work out or get fit, and these often include services for children such as play groups or exercise facilities. If this something you feel will interest your child and help get them involved, look into signing them up for a program. Some offer a day camp-type environment full of fun and field trips, which will help your child participate in a number of activities within a safe atmosphere.
Create your own activity
If you find that there are limited ways in your community in which to involve your child with special needs, try making one! Plan a small gathering on your block, or at a community center, and invite your child’s friends and neighbors to play games, eat a shared meal and just have fun. If making friends is something your child struggles with, this is a great way to introduce your child to the people in your neighborhood without making them feel awkward or uncomfortable.
If you’re unsure of where to start, speak with other parents you know who have children with similar backgrounds. Children who suffer from a behavioral disorder, such as ADHD, might find some focus in their life through drama classes or martial arts training. Your child might be interested in photography, bird watching or rock collecting, all of which are great avenues for community involvement. Sports might also be a great way to support a team effort while letting your child work off some energy, and it also gives them a chance to interact with other children through parallel play and sharing, two great strategies for a child with special needs to get more involved. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce or City Hall to see if they can point you in the right direction to get your child involved in more community activities.
It’s important to work with your child and whatever they feel comfortable with when deciding which community activities will be best for them. There is no “one size fits all” way of getting your child involved in community participation, and might require some trial and error for both of you before finding something that works. Celebrate your child’s achievements through activities, learning and information.
There are no breaks when it comes to parenting a child with special needs – it takes daily dedication, patience and a strong will to succeed, but it can be done with minimal stress and frustration. Make sure you communicate your child’s needs to the school and/or providers, therapists and other community officials to ensure your child is getting the proper amount of attention and education. Together, we can help overcome whatever obstacles are standing in their way, giving them a lifetime of confidence and support.