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Children's Medical Services - Special services for children with special needs
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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 4, Lesson 2

Guiding Toddlers' Social Interactions

Mother playing the drumWhile some toddlers will be in home settings, others will be served in group or family child care settings. Social interactions may be challenging for toddlers with special needs in inclusive child care settings. Children are already beginning to notice differences. Without support, toddlers with special needs, especially those with limited social skills may be excluded from play or not know how to enter play.

Consider these general suggestions for caregivers to set the stage for infant social interactions (Dinnebel, Hale, Rule, 1999; O'Brien, 1997; Early Childhood Research Institute on Inclusion).

  • Caregiver support: modeling, physical assistance, joining the children's play
  • Peer support: modeling, buddy systems, asking peers to help a child to participate
  • Scheduling: changing the timing of activities, using picture schedules, and altering the amount of time for particular activities
  • Environmental arrangements: clarifying physical boundaries
  • Modifying and adapting toys or materials: by altering the number or type, or by altering the placement or position
  • Incorporating communication aides: picture systems or baby sign language (see www.handspeak.com)
  • Caregivers should provide opportunities for non-mobile and nonverbal children to indicate an activity preference.
  • Caregivers must frequently reposition children who are non-mobile.
  • Caregivers need to position children in an activity area for best participation.
  • Caregivers can encourage participation at whatever level is appropriate for or desired by the child.
  • Caregivers should answer other children's questions honestly and simply about the infant/toddler's special needs.
  • Caregivers must avoid the tendency to do everything for the child with special needs.

Baby playing with telephoneSpecifically, to support infant/toddler peer relationships, the caregiver must first help infants/toddlers with self-esteem through secure relationships and successful accomplishment of tasks (Gonzalez-Mena, 2004). To support the infant/toddler with special needs, a caregiver can:

  • Point out the infants accomplishments, making supportive, encouraging (not empty praise ) statements
  • Share commonly held information or experiences about each other. "I notice you both have on pink shoes." "You both went to the zoo this weekend"
  • Encourage, not force, children to help each other and use language to support how we all help each other
  • Encourage sharing of toys. "would you let her touch that?"
  • Encourage sharing of words or actions. "Can you both say, MOO?" "You are both climbing on the ladder."

Consider how the above functional social skills can be established for infants/toddlers with caregivers in centers or family homes.


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