Staying Social During COVID for Students With Special Needs

Rose GriffinBlog, Connect Better, Engage Better

TL;DR:

  • This post shares strategies for helping students with special needs to stay social during COVID.
  • Strategies include virtual playdates, virtual field trips, virtual yoga classes, and virtual celebrations.

Playdates, storytime at the library, going out to eat with friends, having family over for a birthday celebration…these are wonderful opportunities for socialization! Every family is dealing with COVID in their own unique way, but many of these natural opportunities for staying social with others have decreased or gone away completely.

These opportunities are so very important for students with special needs and students who have social goals on their IEPs. Embedding opportunities for children to have contact with friends and family on a regular basis, even in a virtual manner, is important for all children and especially for those with special needs. With snow, dark, and winter looming, read below for 4 ideas to keep those social opportunities going strong! 

Embedding opportunities for children to have contact with friends and family on a regular basis, even in a virtual manner, is important for all children and especially for those with special needs. - Rose Griffin Click To Tweet

Staying Social with a Virtual Playdate

Set up a virtual playdate with your child and another friend or group of friends. Does your child use a visual schedule at school or as a part of their IEP? If so, your child may benefit from a schedule; make a schedule for the playdate. You can tell everyone to bring their favorite toy and be ready to virtually share it with others! Each child can take a turn showing their friends their favorite toy.

You may want to practice these skills before the virtual playdate. Practice what your child will bring and how they will show the toy to their friends.  They can talk about the toy or show their friends how they play with it. If it is hard for your child to wait while the other children are showing their toys, mute their mic if needed, and allow them to get up from the computer area and walk around a bit. Taking a break during a virtual meeting may be a good idea for students who have difficulty staying engaged. 

If your child is older, they could take turns sharing their favorite YouTube video! Your child could tell their friends what YouTube channels they subscribe to and why they like the videos. This is a great social activity for children of all ages! 

Staying Social with a Virtual Field Trip 

Longing to go take a trip but those travel restrictions have you down? Take a virtual field trip with your child and friends to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The California sun is calling! Read a book about the aquarium with your child and visit the LIVE jellyfish cam! Or are you more into an adventure to Alaska? Watch the live bear cam at Katmai National Park. You can see the bears eating salmon, walking through the water, and interacting with other bears.

Work on labeling and describing what you see during the live cam. You can have your child work on recalling details for any family members who could not join for the virtual field trip! Many students with special needs may have a delay in expressive language skills. What skills are they working on at school with their teachers and speech therapists? If they are working on labeling, have them label the different things they see on the virtual field trip. If you come across something they do not know the label for, provide a model and name it for them, and have them repeat it back. This is good practice for introducing new vocabulary. 

A fun way to work on language and get away without leaving the comfort of your home! 

Staying Social with a Virtual Yoga Class

Miss those opportunities for activity and for activity with a group? Invite your child’s friends to a yoga Zoom session. A fun and family friend yoga site is Cosmic Kids Yoga. These yoga videos are themed and engaging for children! The instructor is lively and makes the time fly by. A virtual yoga class allows your child to work on participating in a group activity with others, following directions, and helps them learn a new leisure skill. Many students with special needs may be working on following one and two step directions.

A yoga class will allow you to generalize those skills to the home environment. Working on play and leisure skills may be addressed with your child at school. If your child is having difficulty following along, guide them by providing prompts ( i.e. showing them how to do the poses). Yoga can be a lifelong leisure skill and one that can be done individually or with others! 

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Staying Social with a Virtual Celebration

Are you missing those family dinners, birthdays, and other celebrations? Don’t cancel them; just make them virtual. Is there a family member with a birthday coming up? Plan a virtual celebration. Invite family and friends and let your child know that the Zoom celebration will be taking place. Priming your child for the event, providing a schedule, and practicing the language they may use to participate will ensure a positive experience.

If your child is working on conversation skills, start the celebration with this skill. Is your child working on answering specific conversation questions (i.e. How’s it going? What did you have for lunch?)? If your child is working on answering or asking specific social questions, share that with your friends and family prior to the virtual celebration.

Working on these skills with other individuals outside of the school environment will allow your child to generalize those skills to a more natural environment. Have a schedule for the Zoom celebration. Children can get antsy when things are not planned or run too long. Practice ways to interact prior to the Zoom session. If your child is working on greetings, have them greet family members who are logged on for the virtual celebration. 

Connecting with others is important always but especially now during this time of limited social opportunities. We don’t want our students to feel isolated and we don’t want them to lose any social skills that they had gained prior to COVID. The above virtual ideas will allow your children to practice their language skills and embed opportunities to practice their social skills. These ideas are meant to be functional and fun! Set up that Zoom call and enjoy that trip to Alaska, that yoga class, that celebration, and that playdate!


About Rose Griffin

Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC/SLP BCBA, is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She is the founder of ABA SPEECH, a company that provides speech therapists and BCBAs with professional development regarding best practice for working with students with autism. ABA SPEECH also provides products to help students increase their communication skills. Rose is also the co-founder of Supervision Academy. Supervision Academy provides innovative and individualized remote supervision for those seeking BCBA certification. Rose has presented at the national, state and local level about helping students with autism develop a way to communicate with the world. She can be reached at www.abaspeech.org.