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Special Needs Children: Emphasizing Social Skills

Renee Eder on Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Does your special needs child need help reading and understanding social cues? Social challenges affecting special needs children can lead to social anxiety and withdrawal as they get older. What are some ways to help your child become more socially aware, maintain eye contact, stay on topic, and read emotions, while they are still young? Below are some activities that can help:

  • Eye Contact: Good eye contact shows others that you are interested in what they have to say. One exercise to emphasize good eye contact at home is to place a sticker on your head. Encourage your child to look at the sticker when talking to you. It may not be exactly looking at your eyes but it is training them to look in the right direction in a funny, less threatening way. (Idea from: “Children Succeed”)
  • Taking things literally: Idioms are confusing for even typically developing children, and can be maddening for a special needs child. To help your child, you can create a matching game with an idiom on one set of cards and the meaning on another. Have the child try to pair them up. You could also add in the literal picture of the idiom to visualize what the idiom that is being used actually looks like.
  • Interpreting emotions: Many misunderstandings arise from kids misinterpreting the emotions of others. One way to emphasize how to interpret emotions with a child is to write down feeling words on pieces of paper. Take turns picking a slip of paper and then acting out the word written on it. You could substitute written words for pictures showing the emotion, if your child is a visual learner.
  • Staying on topic: Sometimes it is hard for special needs children to stay on topic and take part in a regular conversation. One way to work on this is to put pictures of different emotions face down on the table. Players can take turns picking cards and making up stories and building on each other’s ideas.
  • Social groups: JCCNV offers social groups for children, teens and adults with special needs. Trained staff assists participants in navigating through challenging social interactions and engaging in meaningful relationships. Events are planned on a monthly basis and vary from activities at the JCCNV to outings in the community. For more information visit our website or contact Arlene Lechner at or 703.537.3032.

At the JCC of Northern Virginia, we are committed to helping the community through activities designed to develop physical and social skills for individuals with special needs. Our program features small participant-staff ratios and offerings such as adapted aquatics, social groups, family events and recreational social skills classes. Learn more here.



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