Making friends isn’t easy for anyone but becomes even more difficult if you are a child with special needs who has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). While most schools use an IEP to primarily focus on academics, one of the most overlooked uses is to help with socialization and recreation. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows for support services, known as “Related Services” that helps the child receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The definition of Related Services as defined by IDEA says:
In General. The term ‘related service’ means transportation, and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services (including speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, social work services, school nurse services designed to enable a child with a disability to receive a free appropriate public education as described in the individualized education program of the child, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services, except that such medical services shall be for diagnostic and evaluation purposes only) as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes the early identification and assessment of disabling conditions in children.
IDEA goes on to define Recreation to include, 1) assessment of leisure function, 2) Therapeutic recreation services, 3) recreation programs in schools and community agencies, and 4) Leisure education.
I am going to focus the rest of this blog on Therapeutic recreation also known as Recreational Therapy. Recreational Therapy is a treatment service that provides treatments and recreation activities to individuals with illnesses or disabling conditions to improve or maintain physical, mental and emotional well-being and help reduce depression, stress and anxiety. Recreational therapies help patients with basic motor functioning and reasoning abilities to build confidence and socialize more effectively. I think the key to this definition is teaching reasoning abilities. Although the picture below from the Big Bang Theory is humorous, there is no “friendship algorithm” for making friends and social skills training alone can only take you so far.
The Friendship Algorithm from the Big Bang Theory
My own son struggles with making friends and his reasoning ability is one of the primary reasons, but we have included this need in his most recent IEP. As I already mentioned, recreation is a related service under IDEA and since this is one of my son’s needs we wrote a goal specific to his social functioning and reasoning. His social functioning goal reads:
During a 20 minute partner or small group cooperative learning or play, he will be able to read another person’s plan by observing their actions and stating at least one realistic result of peers actions, once per day on 5 out of 5 school days per week.
Teaching reasoning and social functioning, in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects of the entire IEP process. When you learn how to make friends those abilities can be used as the foundation for adult independence. You use these skills every time you interact with another person, including job interviews and talking with clients and supervisors. Success outside of school is not always correlated to intelligence and learning social functioning and reasoning abilities can sometimes take you very far. So if your child struggles in these areas and has an IEP, I suggest you ask for an assessment for recreation and address these needs in the IEP.
If you would like to see the video about the Friendship Algorithm you can find it below: