How to help Kids with Special Needs Stay Social — Virtually

How to help Kids with Special Needs Stay Social — Virtually

As every family deals with the COVID-19 pandemic in its own unique way, many of the natural opportunities to socialize with others — in-person storytimes, dine-in restaurants or birthday celebrations — have decreased or gone away for students with special needs and those who have social goals on their individualized education programs (IEPs). Ensuring all children have contact with friends and family on a regular basis, even in a virtual manner, is important. With winter looming, here are some ways to get the most out of virtual social opportunities.

Virtual Playdate

If you are invited to or initiate a virtual playdate on Zoom or another platform, consider whether your child uses a visual schedule at school or as a part of his or her IEP. If so, your child may benefit from making a schedule for the playdate. One activity could be telling everyone to bring his or her favorite toy and sharing it with their friends. You may want to practice these skills before the virtual playdate. Practice what toy your child will bring, how he or she will show or demonstrate it to friends and what he or she will say about it. Taking a break during a virtual meeting may be a good idea for students who have difficulty staying engaged. If it’s difficult for your child to wait while the other children share their toys, mute his mic and allow him to get up from the computer area and walk around a bit. If the children are older, they can take turns sharing their favorite online videos. For example, your child could tell her friends what YouTube channels she subscribes to and why she likes the videos.

Interactive Educational Trips

 A fun way to work on language and get away without leaving the comfort of your home is to take virtual field trips. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one attraction that offers this opportunity. Consider reading a book about the aquarium with your child and visiting the live jellyfish cam!

Or are you more into an adventure to Alaska? Watch the live bear cam at Katmai National Park & Preserve. You can see the bears eating salmon, walking through the water and interacting with one another. Then have your child work on recalling details for family members who could not join the virtual field trip.

What skills is your child working on at school with teachers and speech therapists? If he’s working on labeling, have him label the different things he saw on the trip. If you come across something he doesn’t know the label for, provide a model and name it for him, then have him repeat it back. This also is a good practice for introducing new vocabulary.

Managing Virtual Celebrations

If you’re hosting a remote party, invite family and friends and let your child know that the Zoom celebration will be taking place. Priming your child for the event, providing a schedule and practicing the language he or she may use to participate will ensure a positive experience. Be sure to have a schedule for the online celebration; children can get antsy when things are not planned or run too long.

Practice ways to interact prior to the session. If your child is working on conversation skills, start the celebration with this skill. Is your child working on answering specific conversation questions (i.e. “How’s it going?” “What did you have for lunch?”)? If your child is working on answering or asking social questions, tell your friends and family prior to the virtual celebration. Working on these skills with individuals outside of school will allow your child to generalize those skills to a natural environment. If your child is working on greetings, have him greet family members who are logged on for the virtual celebration.

Get Active with Virtual Yoga

Miss those opportunities for group activities? Invite your child’s friends to an online yoga session. Cosmic Kids Yoga ( has themed yoga videos that engage children. A virtual yoga class allows your child to work on participating in a group activity with others, following directions and learning a new leisure skill. Students with special needs may be working on following one- and two-step directions. A yoga class will allow you to generalize those skills to the home environment. Working on play and leisure skills is another area that may be addressed with your child at school. If your child is having difficulty following along, guide her by providing prompts and showing her how to do the poses.


Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC/SLP BCBA, is a speech therapist and board certified behavior analyst. She is the founder of ABA Speech (, which provides speech therapy services and educational products for students with autism and other complex needs.

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