Friendships and belonging
Being a valued contributing member of the school community is important for every student.
Students with disabilities can and do make deep friendships with fellow students, but often building friendship and belonging takes intentional planning by educators and families, as well as making sure ‘old ideas’ or practices do not get in the way.
Feeling heard, ‘having a voice’ in decision making, and knowing parents and school staff care if things aren’t going well, is extremely important to every child.
Strategies for Encouraging Friendships
How do we make friendship more likely for children with disability? Children need to be present with other children. Children need to be in a place that allows time for them to connect. It helps to have a ‘bridge-builder’ … the school playground allows time for children to connect, but in the absence of conscious bridge-building, an isolated child can remain isolated for a very long time.
David and Faye Wetherow, Reflections on friendship
Foundations for a Good Life
Rob and Virginia Lonsdale
In this article Rob and Virginia explore how their family is consciously building a foundation for their son to have a range of relationships and friendships by being included in community.
Disability & Friendships: What I wish I Knew
Parent Sylvana Mahmic writes a series of letters to her younger self, exploring some of the lessons she has learned about the power of friendships and having a focus on her son’s strengths.
Talking with friends - Claire's PODD Squad
Community Resource Unit Ltd.
Claire’s mother Hannah shares her intentional strategy of how a fun and informal group of friends can grow and learn together through shared use of technology.
Mac-ifications to Mac Burn's handball buggy
Mac’s family shared their vision of an Inclusive life for their son with his school, to involve him in all aspects of the life of the school. This is one example of how simple modifications can enhance the chances of friendships developing.
Tips for Parents. Friendships: Building a Good Life
This fact sheet describes what parents can do to lay the foundation for friendship for their child with disability, drawing on 6 key elements of friendship development.
It’s a numbers game
“By the time Joscelyn leaves high school she will have encountered over 2000 young people and 150 adults. This has been a massive opportunity for Jos to know people and for people to know her.”
For children, the normative pathways of childhood support and encourage opportunities to play together formally and informally … Inclusive schooling provides another vehicle for normative pathways. As with everyone, only a few of many inclusionary community experiences may result in fully fledged friendships.
Therefore, as many such experiences as possible should be encouraged, and as much as possible, the pathways to community inclusion should be ordinary ones.
Bruce Uditsky, Inclusion Alberta Opens in new window
Building Friendships Through the School Years
Community Resource Unit Ltd. (CRU)
"Always assume that while we cannot manufacture or “force” friendships, we can steadily invest in opportunities and strategies that make friendship more likely.
Sometimes the investments will bear fruit quickly and other times, we will only see the results over the longer term… but if we want a life rich in relationships, we need to act with intention and focus towards a vision of a life which includes deep and rewarding relationships."
We’re all friends - Things we love about Sean
Sean Fisher and friends
This video was included in a presentation Sean did with his mother Lisa Bridle at the 2018 Imagine More Conference in Canberra.
Their presentation can be watched in full on the Imagine More YouTube channel: The Grass is Greener Where you Water It: Investing in Relationships and Everyday Wonders.
Looking for opportunities for friendships to blossom
Parent Jan Kruger looks at the ordinary and everyday ways in which friendships can develop.
Jack’s bunch of mates
Jan Kruger, Imagine More
"Over the years we have connected with many families who found their children’s teenage years really hard. Teenage-hood is an awkward time for most kids, a time where kids are discovering their identity, where they belong; all the while hormones are racing through their bodies. Add the complexities of disability into the mix and it can be even harder.
This was the beginning of the idea of a Bunch of Mates forming – an intentional group of students coming together for the purpose of nurturing opportunities where healthy, positive and deep friendships could form."
Circles at Schools
Sue Smith and her son Isaac are participants in Community Living Project's 'Circles at School' project and in this presentation Sue shares key elements of the program and outlines the successful impact it has had in Isaac's life.
Making Relationships a Priority
“Many students with disabilities – including those with significant disabilities – make friends during the secondary school years and sustain those friendships for years. We know this dream is possible.”
Promising Practices to Support Friendships in Inclusive Classrooms
Barbara Davis Goldman
This article lists ways that professionals and parents can help support friendships in the classroom and school community.
Feelings of acceptance come from being acknowledged as someone who is intrinsically worthwhile and/or having characteristics that are seen as worthwhile. This could be as big as being in a role that allows someone to contribute to society, or it could be as small (yet no less important) as being admired for one’s way of being in the world...
Being in valued roles that are related to interests or talents reinforces the similarity between people, rather than emphasising what is different.
More than an onlooker!
“Being a music student opened the doors to other student networks in the school and to experiences like music camp, an invaluable opportunity to socialise with friends. I do not believe it is an accident that two of the friends that Jack still sees regularly (four years out of school) were fellow music students.
Their common interest in music continues to open up opportunities for Jack.”
The birthday party host
“Over the years Curtis had been invited to many of his class-mates birthday parties. We realised that to find his place among his peers he should be the host of his own party, just like everyone else had been.”
Being Needed by the Pack
David Pitonyak talks about the consequences of growing up with the identity of “needy” and the importance of thinking about and developing ways that people can contribute.
The video is about a young man and his family’s intentional efforts to see Al being involved in all aspects of school and community life. Some of Al’s roles include son, friend, classmate, sports team member and graduate.
In the Pool, on the Stage and at the Concert
“Being a full member of one’s school community is an important precursor to being a full member of the greater community and society.
In other words, inclusion now inspires inclusion later and this alone is an important reason to involve all students in the pool, on the stage and at the concert.”
The Power of Social Roles in Creating Fulfilling Lives
Darcy Elks talks about the importance of social roles in the lives of families with a son or daughter with disability.
Acceptance and belonging: the helpfulness of being in valued roles
"Belonging is such a fundamental human need, and being accepted brings a sense of belonging... Belonging and feelings of deep acceptance are like being ‘home’ in a relationship.
There is a sense of comfort within the relationship, and a sense of being safe and secure."
Connecting People and Building Social Relationships
"Relationships stem from people not systems and increasingly people with a disability are immersed in options that are removed from the natural social contexts and situations that most people take for granted.
... It is impossible for people to develop a range of social relationships without being present in the community and being recognised for their unique personality and contribution."
Creating Valued Social Roles
Supports Around 'Behaviour'
He’s confident, he’s happy and he’s part of the class. Building relationships for successful inclusion.
Community Resource Unit Ltd.
When a student’s behaviour is catching everyone’s attention, school inclusion can become very fragile. It is distressing for everyone, and unhelpful patterns can get established, including the student becoming isolated, stigmatized, punished and excluded.
This video shares one family’s vision – their belief in their son and his potential, and an unwavering conviction in his inclusion. It shares how the school team – a skilled and committed classroom teacher, a creative and collaborative specialist educator, a dedicated school Principal and leader, and other key staff – worked together to figure things out.
Most importantly this is the story of Nathan and his success as a valued, integral member of his year 4 class.
“Is it sensory or is it behavior?”
This article written by an Occupational Therapist, provides other professionals with a practical list of ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ when they are treating a child seen to have ‘behavioural challenges’. Parents will find this article a valuable resource too.
STUDENTS, LIKE ALL PEOPLE, WANT TO BELONG. Humans are highly social animals who need to ‘belong’. They generally try to avoid doing things that will lead them to be singled out and excluded. However, the desire to belong can be over-shadowed if a student’s primary or ‘core’ needs are not being met. This means that behavioural outcomes can be greatly developed and improved by a teacher who considers the student’s perspective in trying to identify and address unmet core needs of the student.
All Means All Toolkit
For more information and resources see the Inclusion Toolkit for Parents by All Means All.
Describing challenging behaviour
Strategies we can use to support people
Autism Education Trust: Sensory Audit for Schools and Classrooms
Ian Attfield, Amy Fowler and Val Jones
"This sensory audit is to help staff to assess and create an environment that enables the participation of pupils with autism. It does not cover all aspects, but gives ideas on the ways in which a setting might be altered if pupils experience sensory processing difficulties and find it hard or very anxiety-provoking to tolerate certain sensations or situations."
5 ways to support someone through a meltdown
Michelle Swan is an internationally known autistic Australian writer, speaker, resource developer, mentor, and neurodiversity rights advocate. She writes as a person with lived experience of what she describes as “the frightening, overwhelming, out of control experience of an overload induced meltdown.”
Here Michelle advises the best ways others can support someone experiencing a meltdown.
When your child engages in difficult behaviours… Notes for Parents
"Obviously there are many needs that your child might be expressing through his or her behaviour. A single behaviour can "mean" many things. The important point is that difficult behaviours do not occur by accident, or because someone has a disability.
Difficult behaviours are expressions of real and legitimate needs. All behaviour, even if it is self-destructive, is "meaning-full."
10 things you can do to support a person with difficult behaviours
“Supporting a person with difficult behaviors begins when we make a commitment to know the person.”
Three Dangerous Words
Emma Van der Klift, Broadreach Training
When individuals act in ways that are defined as “behaviour problems”, they are often described as being “manipulative, “resistant”, or “seeking attention”.
Emma maintains that these words are usually a description of the support staff or teacher’s frustration and are unfairly used to locate the problem solely in the person requiring support.
Rethinking Autism: Implications of Sensory and Movement Differences
Anne Donnellan, David Hill and Martha Leary
"As we have professionalized interactions with people with autism, we have trained professionals, parents and others to interpret what happens in terms of simple, binary views of behavior (i.e. good/bad or positive/negative), and to see behavior as controlled by immediate, situational antecedents and consequences.
When we focus on these socially constructed expectations for behavior and communication in our fast-paced, super technological world, we miss opportunities to know and understand people who may experience their existence and interactions in very different ways."
Supporting people with sensory and movement differences and diversity with compassion, collaboration and respect
Produced by Community Resource Unit Ltd.
In 2021, CRU recorded a series of 2 webinars on supporting people with sensory-movement differences and diversity, with compassion, collaboration and respect. These webinars are presented by American educators well recognised for their contributions to development in this field, both inside and outside the classroom.
They collectively bring many years’ experience providing training to schools, as well as universities, community groups and families. You can find out more about renting this video here on our website.
Exploring Accommodations: Some Things to Consider When Supporting People with Learning, Sensory and Movement Differences
Anne Donnellan & Martha Leary
We all use accommodations to get through daily life, but sometimes the personalised strategies that students with disability need are not available to them and instead efforts are made to extinguish what are wrongly labelled as problem behaviours.
In this article, the authors explore unhelpful and helpful assumptions about accommodations, explore accommodations which may be helpful to deal with particularly sensory needs or environments, and point to the importance of building relationships and respecting the accommodations that an individual has adopted.
Autism as a Movement Difference
Anne Donnelan, Broadreach Training
Sometimes a child with a label gets seen as a having “behaviours” which are merely expressions of their differences. This video looks at the dangers of not understanding differences, particularly where students miss out on the support and accommodations they need.
Rethinking Behavioural Therapy
Lydia Brown, Broadreach Training
The disability rights movement slogan “Nothing about us, without us” is a great reminder for those trying to work with students with challenges of behavior. In this video, Lydia Brown, a young disability leader challenges us to rethink assumptions of normalcy and a focus on compliance.
The Language of Us and Them
Functional Behaviour Assessment Tool
Queensland Department of Education’s Autism Hub
This online tool has been designed to help family members and professionals understand and effectively respond to and prevent frequent minor behaviours.
This tool prompts parents and educators to think about what occurs before and after the behaviour to understand what function or role that behaviour may have and what strategies may be useful to help reduce or replace that behaviour.
“All kids want to do well because they want love, belonging and understanding. It is up to us to restory our student’s challenging behaviour in order to help them succeed, feel loved, and feel understood. Certainly, it’s what we'd want someone to do for us.”
(From ‘Behaving to Belonging : The inclusive art of supporting students who challenge us’ by Julie Causton and Kate Macleod)
Image Source: North Star Path
Identify Stress Triggers - an identification tool
A self-reflection tool to help a student, and/or their parents and caregivers, identify their ‘triggers’ at school
Schoolwide Zones Cheat Sheet
The Zones of Regulation
One common tool for students to learn to regulate their own behaviour is the Zones of Regulation, but sometimes school may not follow all of the recommendations, for example, being in the red zone should not be associated with shaming or punishment.
Positive Behaviour for Learning: Misconceptions, Myths and Missed Opportunities
Dr Shiralee Poed
In this lecture, Dr Shiralee Poed addresses some of the implementation challenges alongside potential solutions for anyone working in a school implementing PBL, or considering its application in their school. The video can be viewed on the QUT website via this link, or by click on the image below.
Building Emotional Well-Being
Emotional well-being is something that is often undervalued in people with disability by the wider community. However, to be human is to feel, and while expression of emotional need will always be limited by a person’s communication skills, the emotion is no less real for the person.
Children with disability, especially those with limited effective ways of communicating, need those in the school community around them to be intentional in looking for signs/communications of emotional need, and to ensure emotional needs are recognised and met.
Most important for emotional well-being for every human being, is a sense of belonging. Ensuring that students with disability are feeling the same sense of belonging, feeling connected, valued and respected as contributing members in and out of the classroom as much as their non-disabled peers, is a crucial first step to ensuring their emotional well-being.
The Need to Belong: Rediscovering Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Norman Kunc is a Canadian disability advocate, well-respected writer and speaker, who was born with Cerebral Palsy.
“I believe that the majority of educators would agree that it is tremendously important for a child to develop a sense of self-worth and confidence.
However, in our society, especially in the field of education, it has been assumed that a child's sense of self-worth can be developed from a sense of personal achievement that is independent of the child's sense of belonging. If we concur with Maslow, however, we see that self-worth can arise only when an individual is grounded in community.”
Relationships and community: The essence of life
Anna and Keith Coventry
Anna and Keith Coventry speak about how they build connections in their son’s life as he enters the later years of schooling.
"These relationships give meaning to his life; it is through these relationships that Will feels valued, has meaningful things to do and contributes to his community. We believe that a network of people around him will be essential in ensuring that Will lives a safe and fulfilling life.”
Being hard-wired for belonging
David Pitonyak reflects on the "social brain", being "hardwired for belonging" and the implications of loneliness and disconnection for people with disabilities.
The Importance of Belonging
"Many people who experience disabilities live lives of extreme loneliness and isolation. Many depend almost exclusively on their families for companionship. Some have lost their connections to family, relying on people who are paid to be with them for their social support. Although paid staff can be friendly and supportive, they frequently change jobs or take on new responsibilities. The resulting instability can be devastating to someone who is fundamentally alone."
2019 Children's Rights and Wellbeing at School Forum
Queensland University of Technology (QUT), various speakers
In this forum recorded at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in 2019, presenters look at ways of ensuring all children can actively participate in and experience inclusive education in practice, within an understanding that every child has the right to education without discrimination.