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Can Developmentally Delayed Children Form Friendships?

by Amber Keefer, studioD

Children with developmental delays sometimes have difficulty forming friendships. Although the key to developing friendships is the opportunity to interact with other children, kids with autism often need help because they don’t know how to make friends. In an article published in “Psychology Today,” Robbie Woliver, author of the book “Alphabet Kids,” points out that when a child with autism has trouble socializing with his peers, parents then have to find ways to get kids his age to interact with him.


Findings of a study published in the January 2007 issue of the “Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology” stress the importance in helping children with developmental delays form friendships. (See Reference 1) Some parents decide to enroll their children in mainstream elementary school programs despite their developmental delays. In particular, children on the autism spectrum, who often will imitate the behaviors they see, can benefit from observing the social behavior of their neurotypical schoolmates. Although your child’s teachers will be aware that she has an autism spectrum disorder, it can be helpful to explain to her classmates what autism is. They may be more empathetic and supportive once they have a better understanding of why your child behaves the way she does.

Early Intervention

Early intervention can help improve a child’s social skills, particularly for kids with autism spectrum disorder. Since such a huge part of a toddler’s learning process involves social interaction, a behavioral early intervention program that focuses on social cues and engaging with other people can encourage normal development of behavior, points out Dr. Geraldine Dawson, Autism Speaks chief science officer. Dawson, the lead researcher for a 2012 study published online in the “Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,” notes that findings of the study suggest intensive early intervention can improve both a child’s social skills and brain functions that underlie social behaviors.

Play Dates

Parents can use play dates to encourage more interactive play for a child a developmental delay. It may help to occasionally invite one of your child’s classmates to your home to play. Invite only one friend as having more than one child over can make it harder for your child to interact socially. Keep in mind your goal is to make your child feel more comfortable in social situations. Even if your child shows no interest in playing with the other child at first, it’s a start if he likes to play alongside other children. Your child will learn by imitating what other kids do. He also will learn to interact with other children as he trades and shares his toys even as he plays on his own.

Peer Involvement

A child’s teachers and peers can help her adjust and fit in socially by offering continuous encouragement and support. By modeling age-appropriate behavior, peers can help your child learn social skills Research shows that the more interests a child with developmental delays shares in common with same-age neurotypical classmates, the more likely it is the child will learn social skills by observing their behaviors, notes the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Friendships are more likely to develop when a child experiences frequent opportunities for positive social interactions.

About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

Photo Credits

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