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Social skills, inclusion and making friends


For many, meaningful inclusion is not taking place. Your child or young person is not, or has not become a full member of school or college life. The same might have occurred in the home community too. S/he may be isolated. What can you do?

To highlight issues and make the piece less abstract the disability used is visual impairment. However, the points raised could apply equally to other disability too.

A visual impairment can restrict the development of social skills. It can impact on for example:

  • Interaction with peers
  • Social inclusion
  • Social skills acquired through experience

At school or college a lack of social inclusion may become particularly apparent during:

  • Break times and lunchtimes
  • Extra-curricular activities, for example during a school or college visit to a museum
  • Changes in lessons

During lunchtimes for example, poor inclusion might stem from your child:

  • Not understanding the routine
  • Not being able to access menus
  • Not knowing where a queue starts or ends
  • Not understanding what is going on owing to a high level of noise in the dining room

It is not uncommon for a child or young person with a disability and specifically one with a visual impairment to be socially naïve and this can further hamper inclusion.

Emotional literacy

The development of emotional literacy is often based on visual and non-verbal communication skills; for example, the ability to read facial expressions like smiling or frowning. Inclusion can often mean a need to develop these skills.

Developing literacy in feelings can be vital. If your child or young person is to get along with others and express personal requirements s/he often needs the empathy of others.

Your child or young person’s peers can, however, misinterpret a lack of gestures, unconventional body language and mannerisms possessed by your son or daughter.

On the other hand your child or young person may not know when to,

  • Join in
  • Take turns
  • Stop talking

Modelling behaviour

Your challenge therefore, is to teach your child or young person how to make the right choices when it comes to social behaviour. It is important that s/he is given the right opportunity to make an individual choice. This may often mean however, your child or young person needing limited rather than unlimited choices.

Behaviour is not fixed: it can be changed. This can be done through modelling and showing your child or young person what constitutes acceptable behaviour.

Fundamentally though, you need to be totally consistent in your day-to-day dealings with your child or young person. You should model the behaviour you are looking for whilst retaining high but realistic expectations during a skill’s development.


It is much better to catch your child or young person performing well and reward that behaviour rather than constantly drawing attention to unsuitable behaviour.

The challenge

  • Develop responsive social skills to include the development of empathy
  • Give clear feedback about your child or young person’s social world; for example, if someone in a group is laughing or upset explain why
  • Be alert to others not being switched on to the implications of low vision and your child or young person missing out on social inclusion as a result


  • Encourage everyone to recognise the strengths of your child or young person
  • Provide opportunities for your child or young person’s peers to experience the difficulties of living with low vision and disability in general
  • Teach appropriate body language, mannerisms and verbal communication

Social and emotional aspects of learning

Children or young people do better at school or college if they are aware of their emotions. A discussion about feelings can be important. This way, those who may have limited social and emotional skills and perhaps even limited verbal skills, can develop emotional awareness.

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.


To highlight issues and make the piece less abstract the disability used is visual impairment. However, the points raised could equally apply to other disabilities too.

Peer group support and developing friendships

To develop friendships those around your child or young person must be able to empathise with a disability; for example, low vision and its effects.

Consider three points:

  • It is not uncommon for a school or college to see a child or young person with low vision as being happy and socially integrated with parents seeing a different situation
  • Friendships are often associated with good levels of self-esteem
  • During face to face interaction a great deal of meaning is drawn from non-verbal communication. This can have a significant impact on the development of friendships

Children or young people with appropriate social and emotional skills are more likely to be confident with a positive self-image. Consequently, they are more ready to learn.

Making successful friendships is a very important part of developing social and emotional skills.

There is often an assumption that children and young people just make friends and develop relationships. In reality many with low vision may face challenges when interacting with others and consequently may have difficulty in developing friendships. To compensate, a child or young people might employ other strategies for example, being aggressive or extrovert. Often though, this only serves to increase the problem.

School or college life and the social experience

The quality of school or college life can be related to social experiences. For example:

  • The friends your child or young person has
  • The groups your child or young person belongs to
  • The people who upset your child or young person

Friends provide very important social and emotional support. Friendships provide opportunities for development in ways that other relationships do not.

When interacting with friends, an individual should ideally have equal status. This means learning to co-operate, share, and deal with conflict in a different way from when interacting with non-friends or adults.

Mixing with friends and social understanding

When children or young people interact with friends they are more likely to:

  • Have less hostile conflict situations and be more able to resolve them
  • Use reasoning and take into account the other person’s feelings and point of view

Functional friendships give children and young people opportunities to care about, understand and respond to the feelings, needs and concerns of others. This is extremely important for developing understanding.

When children play with friends they establish a shared world in which language and play helps them develop understanding. Consequently, awareness develops about the links between what people think or believe and how they act.

Standard avenues may be closed

At school it may be necessary to utilise different strategies for developing friendships. This may result through encountering the following:

  • A difficulty in finding friends during play time which impacts on the time available
  • Taking longer to finish school work reducing the opportunities to spend time with friends
  • Having a teaching assistant supporting for most of the time reducing the opportunity to interact 1-1 with other children
  • Spending too much time in a resource base
  • Fully sighted peers performing better results in a child with low vision being unable to compare performance with that of others

All of these may result in a child trying to develop friendships at inappropriate times and in inappropriate ways. For example, making strange noises to entertain and attract the attention of other children during lessons.

Creative and structured opportunities

Children or young people with low vision are likely to need more experiences to develop friendships whilst life may offer fewer. Simply interacting with others may not be enough.

Your child or young person may need the opportunity to engage in all types of social situations which are set up in order to stimulate appropriate social development. For example, they may need an opportunity to:

  • Listen to others
  • Take turns
  • Understand the effects of comments and behaviour on the feelings of others
  • Learn ways of joining in and being part of a group


All of this might require an adult to help and explain events and promote understanding about what is happening around your child or young person. However, this also means adults,

  • Avoid too much involvement
  • Having an understanding of behaviour
  • Not getting in the way although the time available may have an impact


  • It may be helpful for your child or young person to be given opportunities to interact with others who are more socially competent and represent good role models

What are you specifically trying to do?

During opportunities to develop social skills you are offering your child or young person ways to learn, practice and discuss issues around social interaction. The rules about who speaks when and what we are allowed to say are seldom explicit.

Building effective inclusion may require the development of self-esteem and confidence.

You may also need to show your child or young person how to:

  • Gain attention, begin and maintain conversation
  • Express feelings appropriately
  • Understand the feelings of others
  • Understand the other person’s point of view


  • Assist others and not be the only one needing assistance

Effective monitoring of social interaction and the development of friendships and social skills is extremely important. It can be crucial for ensuring your child or young person is appropriately included.

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

Copyright 2020