Ask the Development Doc: Play Dates for Autism

Ask the Development Doc: Play Dates for Autism

The Importance of Neuro-Typical Play Dates for Children with Autism

Dear Developmental Doc:

Do you have any ideas for helping my autistic child make friends? I recently started to volunteer in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom (she’s in a full inclusion setting) and I noticed that although there are children who seek her out to play that basically, my daughter has no idea what to do with them. I asked her teacher for help and she suggested that I contact you, Sara–Whittier, CA.

Dear Sara:

Play dates, up to 3 X a week, with typical developing peers are a critical intervention strategy for children impacted with autism. In every classroom across the Americas, there are children who are what I call “soft souls.” These are neuro-typically developing children who not only tolerate the idiosyncratic behaviors of children on the spectrum, but actually embrace our “kids with needs.” These “soft souls” encourage, cajole and demand from our impacted children, social interaction and while children with autism may appear to be socially reluctant with an adult, they are usually very willing and interested to be involved with these peers.

One of the biggest obstacles to knowing how to play well with other children can include poor motor planning. This is where children literally have no internal map as to what to do in social situations and typically get stuck and stay stuck when they come to a social obstacle. Occupational therapy works by helping a child learn how to navigate around physical obstacles, which later can be translated and generalized into learning how to navigate around social obstacles. In additional, individual behavioral intervention and social skills groups can provide excellent opportunities for learning social norms and having the opportunity to practice socialization under the facilitation of a developmentally sensitive clinician. One last word about play dates with “soft souls.” Gifted child play partners are still children and they need adult guidance during the date. To guarantee that your child with autism has a success social experience, please make sure that you are part of that “date.”

Wishing you happy and playful times ahead. Yours, Esther B. Hess, Ph.D., a.k.a. The Developmental Doc.

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