AUTHOR: Hilary Smith

How Students with Special Needs and Disabilities Can Get Involved with Peers

What do we want? Ideal situations for all of our students. When do we want them? Years ago!

For change to happen, better ideas have to present themselves. Sure, some school systems are catching on – but sometimes they need a nudge. How do we effectively suggest and implement better involvement between our students with special needs and their peers?



Students with special needs and disabilities are like all students in that they want friends, respect and to be included. It’s through integration that typically developing students come to understand that fact. Students with special needs benefit from being involved with their peers through increased family integration into the community. Students without special needs benefit too from their increased appreciation and acceptance of individual differences and through building meaningful friendships. It’s that much sought-after “win-win” setting we all seek.

But how can we kick-start this team building? When presenting this idea to our principals or curriculum committees, we have to introduce and start-up a new way of doing things.. It might not be easy, but this is the kind of change that brings great results. Here are some ideas:

Buddy Systems

Pairing students with special needs with their peers by placing them all in one elective class can be very effective. If they only learn that no two people are the same – that some differences are just more noticeable, they are on the road to inclusion. They all come away with better self-esteem and a greater belief in each other’s abilities.

After-School Clubs

Traditionally, cultural and ethnic diversity are what Unity Clubs are all about. But when students with special needs are included in these clubs, yet another area of diversity can be addressed. What is it like to be me, what is it like to be you? Questions can be posed to the participants to minimize the perception gaps between the classmates. They may discover that kids with special needs can do many of the things their peers do — it just might take them longer.



A Lego or “Brick” team or club can also be a wonderful, leveled playing field for all sorts of abilities. And you might be surprised at how many parents of children with special needs are happy to volunteer if it means their children can participate. Even if the kids need assistance or adaptive equipment to help them, there is no deterrent to their love of Legos. It will be obvious to everyone that kids of all abilities have the same needs and wants, and are no different on the inside.

Peer Mentoring

Consider after-school homework mentoring programs with “learning ambassadors” to blur the lines. A student with a deep knowledge of a certain subject can be a valuable resource. Wouldn’t that person love to impart their knowledge to others who happen to struggle with the same subject? Positive, unexpected allies are formed when this dynamic is fostered. Older students with special needs can lend a lot of intellectual and advocacy experience to their underclassmen and vice versa. Perhaps It’s a staffed homework club where the one-on-one tutoring takes the pressure off the teacher.

All these ideas have been tried and accepted in other areas – What about your area? The inclusion of special needs students with their peers goes a long way toward quashing bullying. Kids can grow up knowing that a disability is only one characteristic of a person. Inclusion fosters alliances and encourages new friendships we may have never dreamed of having. So, let’s help our children learn that we all have many facets. We all have likes and dislikes, and varying skill sets and interests. And we all have different strengths and challenges. Including students with special needs with their peers can bring the community together in wonderful ways.