Social Issues & Opportunities

Social opportunities and recreation give children and youth with special health care needs a chance for better physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, as well as improvements in ability, independence, and self-esteem:

  • Young children learn and master milestones in growth and learning through social play.
  • During the teenage years, structured social groups can give a relatively-safe way for young adults to test limits, learn about themselves, and build their self-identity.
  • It is of great value for young adults to have and take part in social outlets doing things they like, such as arts, crafts, dances, and recreational pursuits.

This can be a chance to build social support networks with peers with and without disabilities. However, many people with disabilities have a hard time taking part in social time outside of the home. This page aims to help parents of children with special needs find the right social opportunities for their children.

Play Groups

Play groups can give young children the chance to build social skills, master milestones, and meet new friends. Parents also have chances to meet other parents and take a break from routines. For more about play groups, see the Additional Early Services page.

Faith-Based Groups

Many parents look into faith-based classes for their children, which offer social time and fun activities. For more about faith-based groups, see the Spiritual Needs page.

Sports Groups

School Sports and Clubs

  • Generally, schools offer some types of sports teams. Basketball, softball, baseball, swimming, track, soccer, golf, tennis, lacrosse, cheerleading, dance, and football are just a few. Taking part in sports teams may help with physical education goals, and some health issues that can be helped by staying active, with the bonus of some after-school supervision.
  • Schools may also offer clubs, like chess, band, debate, math, language, and service clubs. Clubs often have teacher supervision but may be less structured than sports teams.
Both sports and clubs help children and teens build social skills and learn teamwork. They often rally students to compete with other schools, giving chances for travel and meeting new friends. These groups often call for extra school fees, supplies, time away from school and family, and ride arrangements. Some schools allow a peer tutor to help students who have disabilities to take part.

Recreational Groups and Leagues

Cities, counties, and neighborhoods may offer disability-friendly sports leagues or groups. They may also have hiking, art, crafts, and theater groups. These groups will sometimes take field trips and teach new skills. While some of these groups may be less formal than school groups, there may still be cost, time, and travel needs for the youth and family.


If adapted equipment is needed for the person to take part in social or recreational activities, seek advice from a physical or occupational therapist. Many times, sports items and toys can be simply adapted to better serve needs in a social setting.

Volunteer Organizations

Non-profit groups, hospitals, and other community organizations offer teens the chance to serve others, as well as meet new people and see work settings. Someone who wants to be a pilot could volunteer with the Civil Air Patrol, or someone who wants to be a doctor could volunteer in a hospital. Teens can offer to help with:

  • building houses
  • planting trees
  • making meals
  • help with fundraising
  • walk in parades
  • work with theater groups
  • or other things that they might enjoy
The amount of structure can differ, there may be strict schedules and time requirements or schedules may change based on need.

Employment Oppportunites

While employment may be work or a way to get a paycheck, jobs are also a social opportunity. Fellow workers become friends and some jobs may also be fun. For more information, see the After High School Options page.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Best Buddies
The world’s largest organization dedicated to ending the social, physical and economic isolation of the 200 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Best Buddies® creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

Miracle League Adaptive Youth Baseball
The Miracle League provides opportunities for children and young adults with disabilities to play Miracle League baseball, regardless of their abilities. Presently there are over 300 Miracle League Organizations around the world including Puerto Rico, Canada and Australia.

National Ability Center
The National Ability Center empowers individuals of all abilities by building self-esteem, confidence and lifetime skills through sport, recreation and educational programs. Located in Park City, Utah; serves people from all over the country.

National Organization on Disability (NOD)
Provides lots of opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in all aspects of life and offers a variety of programs related to computers, STEM, emergency preparedness, employment, accessibility, and more.

AAPD Interfaith Initiative
Provides resources for families and church congregations to support people with disabilities in worship by teaching how to create inclusive religious settings and advocacy for all who wish to have access to church.

Services for Patients & Families Nationwide (NW)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: September 2013; last update/revision: January 2019
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Alfred N. Romeo, RN, PhD