Healthy Kids
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • May 2012
Written by  Danette Locke

The importance of socialization for kids with disabilities

Ever wonder how you learned to make eye contact when speaking with someone? Or how about why you speak casually with friends and formally with employers? Social skills are something everyone learns in their formative years through interactions with family, friends and the community at large.

No one is born with an innate skill for understanding social skills or knowing how to interact with others.

For children with disabilities, learning these fundamental social skills takes a little more time and effort.

Understanding children with disabilities

According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), the term “disabilities” refers to a wide range of symptoms, skills and levels of impairment that children can have. Some of the more common disorders include autistic disorder (classic autism) and Asperger’s disorder (Asperger syndrome), but there are a wide variety of disorders that your child or a child you know may be diagnosed with. Symptoms of these disorders vary from child to child, but generally many children with disabilities face difficulties with social and communication skills.

In order to help children with disabilities learn social skills and apply them to situations everyone encounters on a day-to-day basis, there are many different types of therapy options for children and their parents to consider. Behavioral therapy is the most common route taken and is often based on Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and Applied Verbal Behavior (AVB).

Incorporating socialization

One-on-one behavioral therapy between the child and the therapist is an important aspect of treatment, but oftentimes it’s hard to replicate the vast variety of social situations in such a small, intimate setting.

Socialization with other children and adults, both with and without disabilities, can help children utilize the skills they’ve learned in therapy and apply them to everyday situations they encounter.

Socialization can begin in the home or at other familiar places for these children.

Sometimes inviting friends over for a play date is a simple way to incorporate interaction with others in a non-threatening environment for the child.

Eventually these early interactions will lay the foundation for interactions in the future, which will most likely take place with unfamiliar faces and places.

Another resource for parents of children with disabilities is center-based therapy.

In this setting, children are often taught skills in one-on-one instruction, and then are able to practice these newly learned sets of skills in small classroom-like settings with other kids in their age group.

Jessica Meyer, co-owner and center director at Connections, a center-based autism treatment provider in Kimberly, understands the importance of bringing kids with disabilities to a center-based treatment program.

“A center-based therapy center provides one-on-one therapy with the added benefit of small group social skills training in a center specifically designed to enhance learning for children with disabilities,” said Meyer.

“Resources are more extensive, there is oversight of staff and children can engage in play with one another while immediately generalizing the skills they’ve been taught individually.”

Outside socialization and center-based therapy also provide a chance for the entire family to spend some valuable time outside of the house.

Oftentimes, families raising a child with disabilities sacrifice a lot of their time in order to find and maintain quality treatment for their children.

Sometimes families even compromise their privacy at home when scheduling the necessary in-home therapy for their children.

Increasing a child’s social interactions truly helps promote and maintain their mental health, as well as keeps everyone in the family’s well-being balanced.

Summer camps for kids with special needs

Summer camps are an excellent opportunity for kids to have fun, socialize with others and learn new skills.

Easter Seals of Wisconsin or 800-422-2324

Camps for children and young adults with Asperger’s and high functioning autism

YMCA Empower Me Camp

For kids with autism/Asperger’s and ADHD

Connections Summer Bugs Day Camp

Ten 1-week sessions, June 11–Aug 24

Separate camps for “low/moderate functioning” and “moderate/high functioning”

Each morning will include structured learning activities and each afternoon will be a field trip

Sibling Summer Programs 
(Fox Valley Sibling Support Network)

For kids ages 6-17 who have brothers or sisters 
with special needs

Danette Locke is co-owner and office manager of Connections Autism Therapy Center, 569 Carter Ct., Kimberly. She is also a parent of an 8-year-old son with autism. To get in touch with Danette, call 920-739-3009. More information about Connections can be found at 

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