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You’ve Got a Friend: 7 Tips for Helping Complex Learners Make and Keep Friends

Friday, November 06, 2015

 

One of the hardest things for parents of Complex Learners is watching their child get left out. She doesn’t’ have any friends. He’s never been invited to a birthday party. These admissions can be heart wrenching, because regardless of the academic and educational concerns parents have for their child with learning differences, they may be deeply worried that their child will be rejected and lonely.

When children struggle with making friends, it may be connected to their learning and attention issues. Difficulties with listening and interpreting social cues make conversation problematic. Complex Learners have trouble understanding the rules of games and the concepts of sharing, accepting other viewpoints, taking turns and following directions. Problems with regulating emotions, understanding body language and interpreting tone of voice can create situations where children overreact because they misinterpret humor or sarcasm.

For children who don’t feel like they fit in at school or at outside activities, there can be negative effects. They can loose confidence and not want to try new things. It can damage self-esteem, and emotions like sadness, anger and hopelessness can occur regularly and feel overwhelming.

The good news is there are ways to help. Parents and teachers can provide supports and strategies for successful social interactions and many of the skills we take for granted when making friends can be taught.  Here are some ideas:

1) Find a good social match. Ask teachers about students who might have similar interests or who are more accepting. Watch for kind and caring kids on the playground or in the neighborhood. Sometimes Complex Learners do not mature as quickly as their peers, so someone who is a year or two younger might be a good social match.

2) Structure play dates & hanging out. Set a short amount of time when you bring new kids together – an hour and a half to two hours should be fine. Plan a beginning, middle and end so kids understand the flow of their time together and go over this with your child (e.g., first you’ll play a board game, then have snack, then you can choose between drawing or making things with clay). Depending on the age of the kids, you may want to have the other child’s parent there for all or part of the first get-together.

3) Find common areas of interest. Choose something to do that both children will enjoy. Activities that are movement-based (e.g., mini-golf) or hands-on (e.g., a cooking project) are good for kids with sensory and attention issues. Be sure to add in some downtime like stopping for a snack or looking at picture books or comics together. This gives kids a break from being “on” the whole time.

4) Level the playing field. Avoid activities that one child excels in and another does not. Remove the element of competition as much as possible. If there are particular toys or things that are especially hard for your child to share, put them away temporarily.

5) Review the ground rules. Are there areas of the house that are off-limits? What behaviors are expected (e.g., using good manners, sharing) and what behaviors are not okay (e.g., ignoring your guest)? Go over these things ahead of time so your child understands expectations.

6) Anticipate hiccups. Things don’t always go as planned. Talk to your child about being flexible and have a plan B in case something doesn’t work out. Encourage your child to think of strategies to use if he/she gets angry or frustrated, like taking a five-minute quiet break. If things start to get difficult, have a few activities kids could choose from and do independently while still hanging out together.

7) Practice. You can role-play with your child or read them stories about friendship to reinforce concepts like perspective taking. This could be as simple of asking a guest what they want to do, or making sure there is give and take in conversation. Creating a Friendship File can also help spark conversation and social interaction.  Developed by Michelle Garcia Winner, this is a tool for gathering and remembering information about friends. It can be a mental or written list, or it can be made with pictures and include interests, things to talk about, favorite singer or TV show, number of siblings, pets, and anything else that helps your child get to know their friend.

Friends are important. They give us a sense of acceptance and belonging. But for Complex Learners, the experience of making friends is a little like Buzz Lightyear’s from the Disney/Pixar movie Toy Story. Buzz lands in a situation where he doesn’t understand the social rules of being a toy. This creates a host of complexities with another toy, Woody, that ultimately get resolved when they’re both on the same page and working together. Like Buzz and Woody show us, friendship takes some work, but ultimately it’s worth it.

Anna Johnson is Head of School at The Wolf School in East Providence, a K-8 private special education school serving complex learners.  www.thewolfschool.org

This series is a content partnership between The Wolf School and GoLocal.

 

Related Slideshow: Depression Among High School Students: How Does Your Community Compare?

The below slides show the number of students who reported experiencing depression at least once in the past 12 months, based upon the SurveyWorks survey, which was offered to public high school students across the state in the spring of 2014. For those who said they had been depressed, the survey asked how many had considered suicide and how many had actually attempted it. Schools are listed based on depression rates, starting with the lowest to the highest. Note that the rates can be affected by how many students participate in the survey and how supportive a school environment is. Schools that were not full high schools are not included. Source: InfoWorks! data from the Rhode Island Department of Education. 

Prev Next

#56 Block Island School

Location: New Shoreham
Number of Students: NA

Number of Student Respondents: 30
% Who Have Been Depressed: 16.7

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: NA
% Who Attempted Suicide: NA

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#55 Cranston Construction Career Academy

Location: Cranston
Number of Students: 158

Number of Student Respondents: 124
% Who Have Been Depressed: 19.4

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 8.1
% Who Attempted Suicide: 0.0

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#54 Sheila Skip Nowell Leadership Academy (II)

Location: Providence
Number of Students: 81

Number of Student Respondents: 15
% Who Have Been Depressed: 20.0

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: NA
% Who Attempted Suicide: NA

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#53 Exeter/West Greenwich 

Location: Exeter and West Greenwich
Number of Students: 540

Number of Student Respondents: 438
% Who Have Been Depressed: 20.1

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 9.1 
% Who Attempted Suicide: 4.8

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#52 North Smithfield High School

Location: North Smithfield
Number of Students: 519

Number of Student Respondents: 431
% Who Have Been Depressed: 21.8

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 7.9
% Who Attempted Suicide: 2.3

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#51 South Kingstown High School

Location: South Kingstown
Number of Students: 1,073

Number of Student Respondents: 685
% Who Have Been Depressed: 22.3

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 10.8
% Who Attempted Suicide: 4.7

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#50 Portsmouth High School

Location: Portsmouth
Number of Students: 960

Number of Student Respondents: 777
% Who Have Been Depressed: 22.4

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 10.6
% Who Attempted Suicide: 6.0

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#49 Chariho Regional High School

Location: Charlestown
Number of Students: 1,201

Number of Student Respondents: 955
% Who Have Been Depressed: 23.7

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 10.2
% Who Attempted Suicide: 4.8

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#48 Narragansett High School

Location: Narragansett
Number of Students: 429

Number of Student Respondents: 349
% Who Have Been Depressed: 23.8

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 11.2
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.3

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#47 Mount Pleasant High School

Location: Providence
Number of Students: 898

Number of Student Respondents: 656
% Who Have Been Depressed: 23.9

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 8.1
% Who Attempted Suicide: 4.5

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#46 Barrington High School

Location: Barrington
Number of Students: 1,027

Number of Student Respondents: 843
% Who Have Been Depressed: 24.0

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 9.6
% Who Attempted Suicide: 3.2

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#45 Scituate High School

Location: Scituate
Number of Students: 469

Number of Student Respondents: 399
% Who Have Been Depressed: 24.1

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 8.2
% Who Attempted Suicide: 4.1

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#44 William B. Cooley Senior High School

Location: Providence
Number of Students: 617

Number of Student Respondents: 376
% Who Have Been Depressed: 24.2

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 6.9
% Who Attempted Suicide: 4.8

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#43 Ponaganset High School

Location: Foster and Glocester
Number of Students: 684

Number of Student Respondents:  541
% Who Have Been Depressed: 24.4

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 11.2
% Who Attempted Suicide: 6.2

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#42 East Greenwich High School 

Location: East Greenwich
Number of Students: 729

Number of Student Respondents: 675
% Who Have Been Depressed: 24.6

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 9.7
% Who Attempted Suicide: 4.8

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#41 Lincoln Senior High School 

Location: Lincoln
Number of Students: 1,005

Number of Student Respondents: 771
% Who Have Been Depressed: 24.8

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 11.1
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.1

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#40 Smithfield Senior High School

Location: Smithfield
Number of Students: 755

Number of Student Respondents: 499
% Who Have Been Depressed: 24.8

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 12.2
% Who Attempted Suicide: 7.3

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#39 North Kingstown Senior High School

Location: North Kingstown
Number of Students: 1,387

Number of Student Respondents: 979
% Who Have Been Depressed: 25.0

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 10.4
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.2

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#38 Coventry High School

Location: Coventry
Number of Students: 1,607

Number of Student Respondents: 1,254
% Who Have Been Depressed: 25.8

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 11.6
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.1

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#37 Paul Cuffee Charter School

Location: Providence
Number of Students: NA

Number of Student Respondents: 205
% Who Have Been Depressed: 25.9

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 13.2
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.4

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#36 West Warwick Senior High School

Location: West Warwick
Number of Students: 935

Number of Student Respondents: 628
% Who Have Been Depressed: 27.2

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 14.9
% Who Attempted Suicide: 7.1

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#35 Westerly High School

Location: Westerly
Number of Students: 917

Number of Student Respondents:  662
% Who Have Been Depressed: 27.3

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 10.8
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.6

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#34 Providence Career and Technical Academy

Location: Providence
Number of Students: 577

Number of Student Respondents: 424
% Who Have Been Depressed: 27.4

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 5.5
% Who Attempted Suicide: 3.4

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#33 Toll Gate High School

Location: Warwick
Number of Students: 958

Number of Student Respondents: 684
% Who Have Been Depressed: 27.5

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 11.5
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.9

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#32 Classical High School

Location: Providence
Number of Students: 1,119

Number of Student Respondents: 997
% Who Have Been Depressed: 27.7

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 8.8
% Who Attempted Suicide: 2.6

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#31 Cumberland High School

Location: Cumberland
Number of Students: 1,337

Number of Student Respondents: 1,039
% Who Have Been Depressed: 27.8

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 12.0
% Who Attempted Suicide: 6.6

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#30 E-Cubed Academy

Location: Providence
Number of Students: 349

Number of Student Respondents: 167
% Who Have Been Depressed: 28.1

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 12.5
% Who Attempted Suicide: 3.8

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#29 Central Falls High School

Location: Central Falls
Number of Students: 727

Number of Student Respondents: 464
% Who Have Been Depressed: 28.4

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 11.9
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.0

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#28 Burrillville High School

Location: Burrillville
Number of Students: 682

Number of Student Respondents: 555
% Who Have Been Depressed: 28.8

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 11.6
% Who Attempted Suicide: 3.1

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#27 Blackstone Charter Academy

Location: Pawtucket
Number of Students: 168

Number of Student Respondents: 146
% Who Have Been Depressed: 28.8

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 11.6
% Who Attempted Suicide: 4.1

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#26 Cranston High School West

Location: Cranston
Number of Students: 1,526

Number of Student Respondents: 1,242
% Who Have Been Depressed: 29.2

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 13.6
% Who Attempted Suicide: 7.0

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#25 Hope High School

Location: Providence
Number of Students: 894

Number of Student Respondents: 642
% Who Have Been Depressed: 29.4

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 11.3
% Who Attempted Suicide: 8.6

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#24 Rogers High School

Location: Newport
Number of Students: 538

Number of Student Respondents: 390
% Who Have Been Depressed: 29.7

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 9.6
% Who Attempted Suicide: 4.5

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#23 William E. Tolman Senior High School

Location: Pawtucket
Number of Students: 1,034

Number of Student Respondents: 563
% Who Have Been Depressed: 30.0

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 10.7
% Who Attempted Suicide: 4.9

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#22 Shea Senior High School

Location: Pawtucket
Number of Students: 858

Number of Student Respondents: 593
% Who Have Been Depressed: 30.4

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 10.3
% Who Attempted Suicide: 7.0

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#21 Tiverton High School

Location: Tiverton
Number of Students: 541

Number of Student Respondents: 437
% Who Have Been Depressed: 30.4

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 11.8
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.7

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#20 Central High School

Location: Providence
Number of Students: 1,112

Number of Student Respondents: 700
% Who Have Been Depressed: 30.6

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 10.6
% Who Attempted Suicide: 6.3

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#19 Mt. Hope High School

Location: Bristol
Number of Students: 990

Number of Student Respondents: 745
% Who Have Been Depressed: 31.0

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 13.8
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.9

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#18 Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School

Location: Providence
Number of Students: 486

Number of Student Respondents: 327
% Who Have Been Depressed: 31.2

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 8.3
% Who Attempted Suicide: 4.9

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#17 North Providence High School

Location: North Providence
Number of Students: 969

Number of Student Respondents: 769
% Who Have Been Depressed:  31.7

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 14.3
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.2

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#16 Cranston High School East

Location: Cranston
Number of Students: 1,583

Number of Student Respondents: 1,317
% Who Have Been Depressed: 32.8

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 14.1
% Who Attempted Suicide:  6.7

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#15 Academy for Career Exploration

Location: Providence
Number of Students: 168

Number of Student Respondents: 97
% Who Have Been Depressed: 33.0

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 12.4
% Who Attempted Suicide: 1.0

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#14 Middletown High School 

Location: Middletown
Number of Students: 685

Number of Student Respondents:  514
% Who Have Been Depressed: 33.3

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 11.7
% Who Attempted Suicide: 6.0

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#13 Johnston Senior High School 

Location: Johnston
Number of Students: 893

Number of Student Respondents: 659
% Who Have Been Depressed: 33.5

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 16.4
% Who Attempted Suicide: 7.6

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#12 Pilgrim High School

Location: Warwick
Number of Students: 991

Number of Student Respondents: 791
% Who Have Been Depressed: 33.5

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 16.1
% Who Attempted Suicide: 7.8

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#11 East Providence High School

Location: East Providence
Number of Students: 1,502

Number of Student Respondents: 1,181
% Who Have Been Depressed: 33.8

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 14.6
% Who Attempted Suicide: 7.3

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#10 Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center

Location: Providence
Number of Students: 838

Number of Student Respondents: 608
% Who Have Been Depressed: 34.4

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 15.4
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.4

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#9 William M. Davies Career & Technical Center

Location: Lincoln
Number of Students: 849

Number of Student Respondents: 702
% Who Have Been Depressed: 34.5

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 17.6
% Who Attempted Suicide: 7.0

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#8 Warwick Veterans Memorial High School

Location: Warwick
Number of Students: 910

Number of Student Respondents:  629
% Who Have Been Depressed: 34.8

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 16.3
% Who Attempted Suicide: 7.8

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#7 The Greene School

Location: Exeter
Number of Students: 162

Number of Student Respondents: 138
% Who Have Been Depressed: 35.5

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 16.7
% Who Attempted Suicide: 7.2

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#6 J.M. Walsh School

Location: Pawtucket
Number of Students: 192

Number of Student Respondents: 172
% Who Have Been Depressed: 36.6

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 17.4
% Who Attempted Suicide: 6.4

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#5 Times2 Academy

Location: Providence
Number of Students: NA

Number of Student Respondents: 35
% Who Have Been Depressed: 37.1

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 17.1
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.7

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#4 Woonsocket High School 

Location: Woonsocket 
Number of Students: 1,579

Number of Student Respondents: 1,026
% Who Have Been Depressed: 37.3

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 17.0
% Who Attempted Suicide: 9.3

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#3 RI Nurses Institute

Location: Providence
Number of Students: 266

Number of Student Respondents: 193
% Who Have Been Depressed: 38.9

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 10.9
% Who Attempted Suicide: 5.2

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#2 Sheila Skip Nowell Leadership Academy (I)

Location: Central Falls
Number of Students: 73

Number of Student Respondents: 25
% Who Have Been Depressed: 40.0

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 12.0
% Who Attempted Suicide: 12.0

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#1 Beacon Charter High School for the Arts

Location: Woonsocket
Number of Students: 227

Number of Student Respondents: 209
% Who Have Been Depressed: 41.1

Of those Who Have Been Depressed
% Who Considered Suicide: 27.9
% Who Attempted Suicide: 12.2

 
 

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