Social Activities for High School Students with Special Needs

Instructor: Abigail Cook
Students with disabilities often need direct instruction to learn and understand how to interact with others appropriately. Teachers can help their students feel more accepted at school by involving them in some practice activities.

High School Students with Special Needs

In the hallway of a typical high school, we would expect to see students walking down the halls together, collecting supplies from their lockers, and talking and joking with friends. Most high school students learn acceptable social behavior by watching and copying the people around them. They understand how to introduce themselves to someone they don't know, how to invite friends over, when to end a conversation, and how to be a friend.

Students with special needs, however, often have a difficult time interacting with others. They do not always naturally acquire appropriate social behaviors like their typical peers. Watching and copying others may not work for students with disabilities because they may depend on more concrete practice and direct instruction.

Basic Social Skills & Practice

Teachers can help their students with disabilities build relationships and make friends by practicing basic social skills. In this section, we'll focus on a few different ideas teachers may implement in their classrooms. Keep in mind, these ideas will not work for everyone. You will need to adapt these suggestions to your individual students and their learning needs.

Conversation Practice

Work with your students to come up with a list of possible situations or topics of conversation they may share with a friend and then follow up with some role-playing. Remind them to make eye contact, maintain personal space, and practice taking turns.

A few sample scenarios are listed below:

  • You want to invite a friend over to watch a movie this weekend.
  • You need to find a partner for the science project in Mr. Hill's class.
  • You've lost your backpack and need to know if anyone has seen it.
  • You liked a friend's presentation and want to give him or her a compliment.
  • You want to practice picking up your date for the prom.

It may be helpful to let your students practice these scenarios with you or another adult aide who can give them useful advice. Then let them generalize their skills by practicing with each other or a peer tutor.

Personal Hygiene Practice

Part of making friends and being accepted by peers depends on how approachable we are. Sometimes students with disabilities have a difficult time picking up on social cues and being self-aware. This is often manifested in the way they dress and take care of themselves. Personal hygiene is an important area for students with disabilities to practice.

Teachers can help their students by planning lessons that focus on personal hygiene skills.

  • Discuss the importance of showering every day.
  • Practice brushing teeth and using mouthwash in the classroom sink.
  • Help your students learn how to style their hair.

Keep in mind, it is not a teacher's job to force a certain style or standard on their students; parental involvement and permission may be necessary before providing personal hygiene instruction. The goal here is to help your students feel good and look approachable, while building their confidence and self-esteem.

Nonverbal Communication

A lot of social interaction happens without anyone actually speaking. Facial expressions, eye contact, and body language all play a part in communication. These nonverbal cues are especially difficult for students with disabilities to notice and interpret. The ideas in this section will help your students practice understanding nonverbal communication.

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