Meaningful social interaction and social connection have been shown to positively contribute to quality of life, growth, and development in youth. However, youth with disabilities face barriers to accessing opportunities for meaningful social engagement that stem from multiple social determinants of health. The COVID-19 pandemic has further limited the delivery of many social programs, as well as the informal social interactions experienced by youth with disabilities accessing social settings. With the increase of virtual socializing needs and the need to integrate virtual visits in the healthcare sector, a unique opportunity arose for our team to run virtual social programs to promote social engagement and reduce social isolation for youth with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since May 2020, Holland Bloorview’s Transitions, Recreation, and Life Skills team and Transitions Strategy has developed two new virtual social programs with the aim of facilitating social connections and friendships among clients and families. Virtual hangouts provides recreational opportunities to address social isolation and provides a setting to allow youth to feel connected and practice social interactions in a safe and supportive environment. Common Room is a structured, therapeutic goal-based intervention for youth in need of individual coaching and group interventions to support social and conversation skills development. Parent coaching sessions are also offered to support learning and transfer of skills. The virtual social programs offer unique opportunities for clients and families to connect with peers, build social skills, engage in social interactions and ultimately establish meaningful and lasting connections.
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