Making Friends with Children who have SEND

August 22, 2017 Published by

As a society, we are becoming more aware of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), and what it means to be inclusive; from supermarkets changing their disabled toilet signs to include ‘invisible’ disabilities to Autism friendly cinema screenings and shopping trips.

Going to the Cinema

Part of this is helping children to understand SEND so that they grow up with inclusivity as the norm. At times children may notice and comment on people they see while out and about; perhaps simply expressing curiosity, or through discomfort.

The first step is to talk to with your child; they may have raised the issue themselves or you might feel it necessary to bring up the subject.  Perhaps there is a specific child in their class, a family friend or they have seen someone in the street or on TV. Whatever the situation, talking openly with your child and being a good role model yourself will teach them to respect, and not fear diversity.

It isn’t only the nature of the SEND you can help your child be aware of, but also how to be inclusive in their play; understanding what another child’s abilities and limitations are will help them manage their play accordingly.


How to talk to your child about SEND

    • Give your child age-appropriate explanations of SEND, remembering that each child with SEND is different. If they are asking about a child in their class, talking to the child’s parents is a great way of finding out exactly what their child is like and how their SEND affects them.
    • After discussing the specific SEND and the associated limitations, you can talk about how your child can take their peer’s specific needs into account and tailor their play accordingly.
    • It is important that throughout this process you look beyond the SEND and see the individual child. Find likes and dislikes, strengths, needs and challenges that the child may have; compare these to your child’s own. Although it helps to understand the needs and limitations of a friend with SEND, they are a child just like your own.


Once you have spoken to your own child and you have built a picture of their friend, discuss activities that they could engage in together and talk about how these can be adapted (if necessary).  What games do they normally play?  Are they accessible to their peer with SEND?  What changes could be made so that they can be included?   

Child playing with a hula hoop

Children tend to play wherever and whenever they can, regardless of constraints, but these opportunities can be greatly enhanced by the appropriate social environments.  Inclusive play fosters an environment where diversity is respected and valued. Often, people are overly concerned with issues such as safety and educational learning [1] which results in free play opportunities being limited.

Inclusive play bridges the gap between mainstream and SEND children. Both groups can benefit and learn from mixing with those different to themselves but, if children do not fully understand they might make fun of those with special needs, or leave them out in play because of a lack of understanding [2].

The world is made up of lots of types of people – everyone is unique.  Accepting these differences (obvious or not) talking to our children about SEND will make them more open-minded, and hopefully, lead to a more inclusive society.

[1] Let’s Play Together, Play and Inclusion

[2] What is inclusive play and why is it important

[3] Love that Max: a blog about kids with disabilities who kick butt

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This post was written by Claire Gillies

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