All lives are enriched by relationships and interdependence, and the lives of children with disabilities are no different. Children with disabilities are often socially isolated because of physical, communication and/or attitudinal barriers — as well as the very real barrier of stigma.

Parents are often painfully aware of their child’s isolation and the need to make connections within the school and community, but often feel ill-equipped to remedy the situation. It is clear that intentional actions must be taken to facilitate the development of friendships for children with disabilities.

The Friendship Toolkit is a new resource from the Parent Education and Advocacy Leadership (PEAL) Center for families, educators and service providers as well as peers, siblings and communities. The good life is built with good relationships; friendships make our lives meaningful. A few strategies, excerpted from the Friendship Toolkit, can help any child to find and build meaningful, enduring relationships.

Who Benefits from Friendship Development?

The need for friendship is universal and is not based on education level, race, culture, age, gender or any other defining characteristics. This basic need is equally important for children with disabilities. Friendship development is important for the child, parents, siblings, peers, school personnel, communities and society.

There is no set formula for friendship development for children with disabilities. However, there are six key elements that appear repeatedly in research related to friendship and children with disabilities. These include:

•    shared activities
•    shared interests
•    valued roles for all
•    shared information about each other
•    just enough support from adults
•    reflection

These elements can guide your efforts in friendship facilitation. Parents, siblings, peers, teachers, support personnel and the community at large can actively work together to address these elements to maximize their efforts in support of friendship development among students of all abilities

To learn more about each element and what you can do to facilitate friendship development check out the entire toolkit at


  • make us feel accepted, valued and provide a sense of belonging.
  • provide support for our emotional, physical well-being.
  • validate and support us as a person outside our family circle.
  • offer a sense of companionship and membership.
  • provide models for our behaviors and adherence to environmental norms.
  • provide safety across environments. When we are valued and well known in our community, others are watching out for us.

Diane Perry is a Parent Adviser for the PEAL Center.