August 1, 2017

5 Tips To Start a Circle of Friends Group

By Mary Schlieder, Ed.D. | Education

Did you know that 1 in 68 children are born on the autism spectrum? And while laws guarantee access to public schools, physical inclusion doesn’t mean social inclusion. Autism is a social communication disorder, and awkward social behaviors can be isolating. Students with autism are often denied entry to the peer social world, further stifling critical social development; affecting academic performance; and contributing to depression, anxiety and school attendance.

Make a Lasting Impact with Circle of Friends

Circle of Friends is an evidence-based form of peer-mediated intervention for children with conditions requiring social and behavioral skills support. Positive peer role models receive autism awareness training and are provided regular opportunities both in and out of school to interact with their classmates on the autism spectrum. Teachers typically facilitate these groups and are increasingly reporting academic, behavioral and social success for their students. And, this success isn’t limited to the child with autism. Peer mentors develop empathy and leadership skills that extend far beyond classroom walls.

Circle of Friends groups have been implemented across the country from preschools to colleges. It doesn’t take special expertise to start a Circle of Friends group. Any adult who wants to make a difference is qualified. Here are some tips to get you started:

5 Tips to Start a Circle of Friends Group

1. Decide who will be included in the group. Typically, these are children who have poor social skills and struggle to make friends. Be sure to get parent permission for the child to participate.

2. Choose a group of social peers to be role models. Let them know ahead of time the group’s purpose: To get to know a classmate with autism and help them better connect with others at school.

3. Plan your meeting schedule. Once per week is recommended. Some groups meet during lunch, some after school, some during study hall.

4. Combine fun and social skills instruction. Open gym, board games, community service activities, crafts, scavenger hunts — any activity where kids can interact with each other is great. Other meetings can teach social skills, such as having two-way conversations, bully prevention, sharing on the playground, dating topics, hygiene, etc.

5. Consider a social outing once a month for older students. Community settings are great opportunities to identify additional social needs not exhibited in school. Plus, they’re a whole lot of fun for kids! Go bowling, visit the local pumpkin farm, watch a movie, eat at a restaurant or spend a day at a fun park.

And remember: It doesn’t matter if the group is perfect. What matters is that you start it. Students experiencing isolation and bullying need adults to step in and do something. By bringing Circle of Friends to your school, you’ll be making an infinite and everlasting impact.

If you’re interested in furthering your teaching career and making even more of a difference, check out Concordia University, Nebraska’s M.Ed. programs.

 

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