Daniel a 3-year-old with special needs, has recently become part of our program. Daniel has particular difficulty with his social skills. He seems to have limited ability when it comes to communicating with his peers. The children are already bonding with one another, and I'm worried about Daniel's ability to integrate himself into the classroom. Can you recommend any strategies that might help?

During the preschool years, children practice the skills needed to join others, ask for a turn, share, and so on. "Can I play too?" and "How about if my trucks brings the bricks for the building?" are the kinds of questions children ask."

Children who have had communication difficulties usually haven't had the extensive interaction needed to develop these skills. But in school, they have the advantage of being with older children in a familiar setting and with teachers who will get to know them well. Over time, a child with special needs may learn about how other children think and feel, how to negotiate and share ideas, hoe to make a friend. A long-term goal is that the child will interact warmly, spontaneously, and confidently with others, and practice can make that happen. As the child practices, adult mediation can be very useful. Here are some ways you can help.

Encourage the child to join a group. When Daniel approaches other children playing, encourage him to ask if he can join in. Suggest that he tell them what he would like to do or that he contribute an idea about what they are doing. Urge him to speak up.

Join the group yourself to help them notice him. Say, "Hey, everyone, look who just came over!" Then encourage the children to ask him to play: "Johnny, see if Daniel can help you with that puzzle." Encourage a discussion of what they can do together: "Are you building a road to the airport or the zoo? Daniel wants to build a bridge. How can you fit in the bridge?"

Build interactive skills. When you first start to play with the child, follow his lead. If Daniel is playing at something he's chosen, he'll know what he wants and be better able to express his ideas to others.

After a little while, call one or two children over and involve them in the play. If necessary, turn the activity into a game of follow the leader (still sticking to the chosen theme), making the child the leader much of the time. Then help him follow the other children.

Become a playmate. When you get down on the floor to play with a child, other children will be drawn to what you're doing. Call out to them, "This plane is taking off. Any more passengers?" The other children will soon also take roles and begin to play.

Encourage partnerships with others. Whenever possible, have the child with special needs work with another child to have more opportunities to interact and build friendships. For example, hang papers vertically on the easel so he and another child can work together and talk about their paintings. Give him and another child a big piece of play dough and ask them to make a big dinner with it, discussing what each will create. Ask another child to work with him on a puzzle.

As you begin to encourage these partnerships, start with the children who show interest in the child with special needs, and gradually bring in other children as well. Be sure to reward all their joint efforts.

Always encourage interaction. Whatever the child is doing, make sure it's interactive, whether with you or with another child. It's tempting to reward a child for completing a task by himself; however, it's even more important to reward his efforts at interaction. That's the best way for him to master two-way communication.

If you take advantage of these opportunities to involve Daniel in the classroom, it shouldn't be long before he is interacting with the other children without much assistance from you.