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Loneliness in Special Needs Children

By Dr. James MacDonald  -


    Perhaps the main reason I have worked for many years to build the Communicating Partners program is because for over 40 years now I have seen over and over again the worst problem children with developmental delays (DS, Autism, Apraxia, and many other concerns) have is not cognitive delays (the focus of most schools and therapies) or to talk just right---- The major problem is LONELINESS...

We have known many children and adults who learned to be social and imitative, enjoyable playmates and turn-taking partners-- but never developed the cognitive or language skills hoped for. They are still happy because they are social.

But what does it matter if your child does well in school and shows increases in an IQ, if his daily life is lonely?

I have a suggestion.
Spend three times a day for ten or more minutes doing nothing....except being with your child in what he likes to do and acting just like him. Don't teach, don't correct, don't take the lead just act and communicate in ways he can do, show a little next step. Respond to his interests, be a playmate not a teacher, and tell your self...absolutely nothing has to happen other than my child being happy with me.

You can't buy that and that is what your child needs. Aren't you tripping over too many toys? And aren't we all embarrassed at how many things our children have (and ignore) and how little intimate time they have with us???

The mom that started this discussion did us a big service wondering about her lonely child. That is a travesty and I see it all the time with children with DS, Autism, and many other delays.

We have found that if we stop making children 'school smart' and make them more social instead, I promise that they will eventually become more cognitively smart--IQ-- since we all learn much more from our social interactions than from what we are directly taught.

Another idea, when Grandma or Uncle Joe ask what to get your child, suggest they get him a card, and in the card is a voucher for so many hours of play in your child's world, without teaching, without the TV on, and one to one.

The more matched partners your child has, the more he will communicate and the less lonely he will be.

James D. MacDonald, Ph.D./CCC
Communicating Partners
(614) 447-0768