Fiction With Friends building social links for kids during pandemic restrictions

Amid the unpredictability of COVID-19 a creative new program is helping kids with developmental disabilities build social skills and confidence from the comfort of their homes.

With lockdown measures in place, Gateways Support Services Occupational Therapist, Ben and his team were brainstorming ideas to continue to engage kids in group activities online in a fun and meaningful way.

That’s when he came up the idea of ‘Fiction with Friends’, a creative story writing program for kids, delivered completely via Zoom.

The six-week program guides small groups of kids aged 7-11 years to work together to write, illustrate and record their very own story.

‘This group really is not run by me, it’s run by the kids. I’m just there to reinforce the social skills and put the book together – they are the ones who create the characters, their look, their character back story, and how they all come together to sort out some conflict,’ Ben says.

Across six sessions children use social thinking concepts such as ‘The Group Plan’, ‘Hidden Rules – Expected and Unexpected Behaviours’, ‘Flexible and Stuck Thinking’, and ‘Sharing an Imagination’ to get to know one another and create a unique and personal story in groups of three children and one occupational therapist.

Point Cook grandmother of 11-year-old participant, Jayden, says the program has sparked never before seen confidence, imagination and collaborative skills in her grandson.

‘Jayden has never wanted to work with others on a project but really enjoyed this process. He has now started to draw more and create more characters,’ Lee-Ann says. ‘He is more open to sharing his ideas and talking about his characters of interest.’

Lee-Ann says with the program running completely online, Jayden, who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability and global developmental delay, feels more secure and relaxed as he can participate from his home.

On top of having a great time and getting to know their peers, Ben has also noticed other positive effects of the program, especially changes to the kids’ confidence and respect for one another.

‘They started the group either shy and unsure about their ideas or talking over others to make their ideas were heard – but by the end of the group they were all working together and encouraging each other,’ Ben says.

‘They all end up feeling comfortable with doing that after a couple of sessions – resulting in a group that is respectful of each other and proud of what they have created together.’

Ben says it’s been wonderful to see the twists and turns that the children come up with in the story process and that there is never a dull moment.

‘It’s pretty much impossible to predict what is going to happen but somehow it all works and makes enough sense, that’s the best thing about the imagination of kids – its super unpredictable,’ he says.

At the end of the program, each child also receives a physical copy of the finished book to keep, a material memory of their story-creating adventures.

‘It is an amazing feeling to see what your child created and to see it in print,’ says Lee-Ann.

You can watch a recording of Will, Kye and Felix’s story ‘Robots vs Humans’ here.

To find out more about ‘Fiction with Friends’ or our other western Melbourne programs, contact Gateways Support Services at, phone 9396 1111 or complete an intake inquiry.