by Jennifer O'Rourke, MS
Associate Program Manager, Child Services
For some children, the idea of a “friendship” can be elusive. While other children seem to establish and grow friendships organically from experiences within their environments (neighborhoods, schools, group activities, playgrounds), others may not. This discrepancy can sometimes be attributed to skills deficits as there are many underlying skills that make the ‘friendship process’ less accessible to children with atypical social development.
During childhood, many friendships are built around a mutually shared interest for an activity or game (basketball, Minecraft, Nintendo, planets, computers, animals). As children spend more time together, they go through the process and decide who they want to be around more and who they want to be around less.
To replicate this experience in Aspire groups, staff facilitate structured activities that allow participants to progress through the ‘friendship process’:
- I share information about myself.
- I take in information about others.
- I recognize shared connections I have with others.
- I remember information about others.
- I recognize abstract qualities that help me feel comfortable around others and others around me.
- I recall information I have stored and use it when I am with you.
Many core skills are explicitly targeted in this work:
- Perspective-Taking: I know each person is unique and has their own thoughts and feelings that may be different from mine.
- Verbal Expression: I can express my own unique ideas.
- Self-Awareness: I know what I like and what I dislike based on personal experiences.
- Social-Observation: I scan the environment around me to look for clues about others.
- Attention: I listen to conversations and digest information being passed.
- Memory: I store information I have learned about others in a meaningful way.
- Activation and Initiation: I call upon my memory and my “Mind Files” to play and engage with you in a way that makes us both feel comfortable. I reach out to others around me to share experiences.
Some strategies Aspire staff use to facilitate this process:
- Regular, structured ‘share’ opportunities and ‘get to know you’ games
- Structured, supported play using preferred interests, with in-the-moment feedback to raise awareness
- Exposure to new activities or topics
- Declarative language to support social coaching (example: “You seem to both like playing with trains.”)
- Visuals (charts, graphs) to record information about others.