How to be a Better Friend to Someone with Special Needs

Tuesday, 12 April, 2022 - 7:49 pm


Friendships with a person with special needs are no different than friendships with anyone else. You hang out and do fun activities together, you support each other, you tell each other about your likes and dislikes, and work together to get through times of conflict. However, being a friend to someone with special needs does require paying attention to underlying assumptions and stereotypes that could come across as harmful. Here are some tips for how to maintain healthy and mutually satisfying friendships between a “typical” person and a person with special needs. 


#1. Make sure events and activities you do together are fully accessible


When you don’t have to worry about accessibility, you often forget about that factor when planning activities or fun things to do with your friends. However, to a person with special needs, they are always thinking about accessibility and if a certain place is able to tailor to their needs. Ignoring the need for an accessible place will come across as offensive to a person with special needs. Therefore, choosing to go to places and do activities that are fully accessible will not only show your friend with special needs that you respect them, but it will also advocate for businesses that are accessible and inclusive to everyone. 


#2. Be flexible if plans are changed or cancelled 


Sometimes people with special needs have conditions that are unpredictable and cause them to cancel or change their plans last minute. That being said, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t take it personally if your friend with special needs needs to cancel plans. In fact, your friends with special needs most likely hate having to cancel their plans with you. So, when this type of situation arises, be flexible and support and always withhold judgment. 


#3. Follow their lead on the use of humor and self-deprecation 


It’s normal to poke fun at each other when you’ve been friends with someone for a long time and it’s no different between you and your friend with special needs. However, repeated jokes, especially those about their disability such as them being slow or a klutz, can become harmful even when they are supposed to be harmless. To prevent this from happening, ask your friend with special needs how they really feel about these jokes 


#4. Speak and advocate with them, not for them


Disabled people are often viewed as vulnerable people who need others to be their “voice” and “advocate”. However, most people with disabilities are experienced and good at self advocacy and don’t need someone to speak or advocate for them. Therefore, be an ally by following and supporting your friend with special needs, not being a spokesperson for them. 


#5. Don’t treat them younger than they actually are 


Most people stereotype people with special needs by treating them younger than they actually are. Our society trains us to believe that people with special needs are not as developed and need things to be “dumbed down”. However, this could be further from the truth. If you’re trying to be a better friend to a teenager with special needs, then make sure to treat them and talk to them like any other teenager. It will make for a friendship with mutual respect. 


#6. Ask them if they need help with anything 


This may seem obvious but we cannot stress this enough. While a person with special needs is very capable of doing almost anything, sometimes it can be hard for them to ask for help. That being said, asking them if they need help will make their day that much easier. Don’t worry about being too overbearing. You will find that your friend with special needs will really appreciate you taking the time to think about them and their needs. 

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