As your young person with SEND grows up, so does the importance of having friends, relationships and being part of the community.
For many young people this can be the most challenging part of growing up. Being part of a larger friendship group, and not just part of the family, is an important step in preparing for adult life. It can give your young person a sense of being included, and give them confidence to take part in opportunities.
How to make friends
Many websites offer advice on how to make friends. Many of the ideas will be relevant for your young person.
Your young person does need to be willing to go out and meet people
Making the first move
So your young person has gone to a place to make friends. They now need to be willing and able to talk to people.
Do they know how to introduce themselves? Can they remember the other person’s name?
Do they know how to start, maintain and finish a conversation, which is appropriate to the situation?
Do they understand the importance of body language in a conversation, eye contact, smiles, leaning in to show interest?
Can they make small talk? Can they continue a conversation when the other person is not talking about something they particularly like, or have knowledge about?
Do they know when to stop talking to allow the other person to speak?
If the conversation has gone well, does your young person know how to ask if the other person would like to meet again?
How to keep a friendship going
There are many things that your young person should do, to help maintain their friendships.
Be a loyal friend. Being there when their friend needs them, even if their favourite team is playing football or they are doing their hair. Friendship means being willing to sacrifice time and energy to help each other out
Be a good friend. Initiate some activities, be willing to do things that are not their first choice and remember important dates like birthdays. The other person should also be doing these things
Be reliable. If your young person says they are going to do something, they actually do it. If something comes up, can your young person let their friend know that plans need to change? They should let them know in time and with an apology for the change
Be a listener. Does your young person take time to listen to the other person? This is particularly important if the friend has communication difficulties
Be trustworthy. Does your young person know when it is appropriate to talk about conversations they have had with their friend?
Keep in touch. Using social media can make it easier for people to keep in touch. Some options, such as Skype are particularly helpful if your young person has a sensory impairment. In the SEND Local Offer for Children and Young People, there is information on resources which can help keep your young person safe online
Some people may find all or some of these things easy. But for many young people with SEND, they can be terribly hard and seem like a barrier they can never get through. Resources like social stories, communication cards, a pocket diary, Dictaphone or mobile phone that can voice record, could all be useful to help break through some of these barriers.
If your young person wants a friendship to become more than just friends, you will need to give them support to help prepare for this next step. There are numerous easy read guides and videos to help with this. It might be helpful for you to think about where support is most needed. For example:
How to cope with the intense emotions and feelings that are part of relationships
What having a relationship is like
The different types of relationships people can have
How to say 'no' if your young person doesn’t want a relationship or sex
What the law says about sex
How bodies work and appropriate words to describe their bodies
Pregnancy, infections and how contraception can prevent both