Inter-Ability Friendships in the Preschool Classroom


Written by Ellie Richter, M.A. Bilingual SLP-CCC at the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic at Maryville University

What are inter-ability friendships?

Inter-ability friendships are relationships between children of varying physical, cognitive, social, speech, and language abilities. While it is common to focus on developing inclusive classrooms, we need to emphasize the importance of fostering inclusive friendships, as well.

Children develop friendships through play, but many skills are involved in initiating and fostering these relationships. These skills include problem solving, social language skills and an understanding of the fact that friends may have different beliefs, desires and perspectives, just to name a few.

The development of these skills begins in infancy and the process continues well into preschool. For children with delays or disabilities, these foundational friendship skills may be acquired at a slower pace. Early childhood centers with a commitment to supporting and teaching these skills will see beautiful friendships develop between students of all different abilities.

What are the benefits of inter-ability friendships?

  • Children have the opportunity to observe and even serve as models for their peers.
  • Inter-ability friendships reduce a child’s discomfort with human differences, an important skill for future success.
  • Children have the chance to not only acquire and master skills, but also to deepen mastery as they share their knowledge with their friends.
  • Inter-ability friendships in the classroom have been found to correspond to a reduction in bullying and other negative behaviors.
  • Inter-ability friendships help children develop empathy and compassion as they recognize and respond to the needs of others.
  • Children who are typically developing, as well as children with disabilities, learn how to modify their language so that their friends can best understand them.
  • Inter-ability friendships lead to peer acceptance. Peer acceptance, especially in the early years, has been demonstrated to be an indicator of quality of life in the adult years.

What can you do to support inter-ability friendships?

  • As a parent, a strong positive relationship with your child is the first foundation. Your children will model the relationship they have with you in interactions with their peers at school.
  • Provide opportunities for children to interact and play with peers that have different strengths and abilities.
  • Model the appropriate physical and social language to use to enter play such as turning your body towards the person you’re speaking to. Parents can also show children how to share and take turns during daily activities. They can also teach ways to appropriately leave play by saying, for example, “I’m all done” or “I want to play something different, do you want to play, too?”

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