5 Tips for finding the right group activity for your special kid

Photo of group of children

(Part 1 of 3 on finding the right extra-curricular activities) by Kathy Kuhl     “Socialization” – the word all homeschoolers hate. Not because we hate socialization, but because relatives and even complete strangers keep asking us about it.

As parents of kids with special needs, we want to help our kids develop social skills, just as we would if they were in school. And sometimes we have to seize the moment.

“My son is just opening up this year, wanting to be around other kids and I am looking for friendly opportunities,” Mary wrote today, asking if I could help her find a Boy Scout troop open to boys on the spectrum.

Whether it’s a scouting program, team, or extracurricular activity, here are my five tips for finding a good fit for your exceptional child:

1. Ask your local homeschool friends. At local homeschool support groups, ask around. Don’t forge to post queries to local homeschool lists, message boards, and groups on social media. When you get replies, ask if you can call and ask a few questions. Chances are the parents will love to tell you about what their kids are doing.

If you are talking to someone who doesn’t understand your child’s special need, plan ahead. Think of short ways to explain your child’s behavior: “He loves camping and is very diligent, but is a bit socially awkward,” “She misses social cues, but is very kind-hearted and loves crafts.” This stranger giving advice doesn’t need too much detail initially.

2. Ask your local chapter of your favorite special needs support organization: CHADD, the Autism Society, Learning Disabilities Association.

3. Check with your local chapter of the ARC, which deals with a variety of special needs.

4. Realize that every troop and group is different. When we were looking for a Boy Scout troop, a friend advised us to visit a least three troops. If we weren’t happy with the first we visited, she said to keep trying. Every group has its own personality.

Even if you visited a group a few years ago and didn’t like it, you might go back. That kid your child couldn’t stand may have grown up. (Or your child may have.) The unsympathetic parent may have moved on. The culture of the group could change, especially in places where people move frequently.

5. When you find the right group, give the leaders a little, but not too much, information. When they do ask a question, resist the urge to launch into your excellent five minute lecture on your child’s disabilities. (I’ve felt that urge.) You don’t want the leaders to become afraid to ask you anything. Keep it simple.

And keep it practical:

“Tom loves scouts. He has attention deficit disorder. He’s not hyperactive, but he is easily distracted. So when you need his attention, please call his name before you give him instructions. A tap on the arm can get his attention. Thanks so much for working with the troop.”

“Sarah is so glad to be in this group. She has an auditory processing disorder which makes it hard for her to make out one voice from other sounds. Her hearing is excellent. Talking louder won’t help. But make eye contact first, tap her arm, and say her name. Maybe move to a quieter part of the room. We are so grateful for your work with the girls. Can I bring refreshments next month?”

When you’ve found the right group or troop, what next? See my next post for tips on helping your child succeed in that group activity.

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