Playdates For Autism: Playdates are an important aspect of childhood, fostering social interaction, emotional growth, and cognitive development. However, for children diagnosed with autism, engaging in successful playdates can be challenging due to their unique social and communication difficulties. One of the hallmarks of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is how challenging it makes interacting with others. Kids on the spectrum may be uninterested in or bothered by interrupting their routines and playing with their peers.
Sharing toys, creating a shared universe of play with characters, having several interactions, and taking input from others are all developmental markets of socialization. Unfortunately, they are also what kids diagnosed with autism struggle with. Yet, it is not appropriate to shield your child from social interaction. Kids on the spectrum can learn and grow and are no less intelligent than their neurotypical peers.
Neurodivergent kids deserve to meet the world and interact with others. It is imperative for their development and their joy that they can express themselves to others and form lasting friendships. There are several methods parents can learn to pull off a successful playdate. Following the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, the gold standard in autism therapy, you can organize many social events while maintaining your child’s sense of safety and belonging.
In this article, ABA Centers of America will explore the typical developmental markers in play, delve into the specific challenges faced by children with autism, and provide valuable tips for parents and caregivers to schedule successful playdates, ensuring that children with autism can build meaningful connections with friends, both with and without autism.
Playdates for Autism Fact #1: Developmental Markers
Play is a fundamental activity throughout infancy, and the complexity of play develops as the child ages. Solitary play, parallel play, and cooperative play are three distinct stages of play that typically develop in children. The ages at which these stages occur can vary, but they generally follow a sequential pattern. Children with autism tend to arrive at these stages late and develop unique behavior patterns during each one.
Solitary play typically occurs in infants and young toddlers, usually between the ages of 0 to 2 years. During this stage, children engage in independent play, focusing on exploring objects and their actions. They are not actively engaging with other children or seeking social interaction. Children with autism may exhibit prolonged periods of solitary play.
Additionally, they may experience struggles with symbolic play. Consider a typical play scenario, a tea party. Children with autism may not engage with the make-believe elements, such as pouring fake tea and having a false conversation but fixate on arranging the teacups in a certain manner.
Parallel play typically emerges around the age of two and continues until around three. During this stage, children play alongside each other without significant interaction. They may use similar toys and mimic each other’s actions, but there is limited engagement and collaboration. Children with autism may continue to engage in parallel play for longer, finding it challenging to initiate social interaction or engage in cooperative play.
Cooperative play usually develops around the age of 3 and extends throughout childhood. During this stage, children actively engage with peers, working together towards a common goal (albeit with occasional disagreements). They engage in reciprocal exchanges, take turns, negotiate, and share ideas. This type of play involves more complex social interactions and requires understanding and respecting others’ perspectives. Children with autism may struggle with the social communication aspects of cooperative play, such as understanding social cues, interpreting non-verbal signals, and coordinating their actions with others.
Playdates for Autism Fact #2: Tips for Scheduling a Playdate
1. Encourage Parallel Play:
It’s important to remember that parallel play is a valuable step in a child’s social development. It allows children with autism to become more comfortable with the presence of others and gradually observe and learn social skills from their peers. While parallel play may appear isolating, it sets the foundation for future social interactions and lays the groundwork for more advanced forms of play and social engagement. Initially, focus on parallel play, allowing children to engage in similar activities.
2. Prepare In Advance
Children with ASD struggle with surprises. There is a stronger change for a negative emotional reaction if they expect a regular day and suddenly have to cope with socializing. Give them plenty of notice that someone will visit to ensure they are comfortable. A visual schedule might help the child understand the sequence of events.
3. Choose a Comfortable Environment
When introducing a neurodivergent child to play, it might be wise to do so in familiar settings rather than an entirely new environment. At home, where they feel safe controlling sensory inputs like television volume, toy choice, decorations, and furniture, they feel most like themselves.
4. Choose Someone They are Comfortable With
Not every play partner is created equal. Some kids are rambunctious and loud; some are quiet and patient. A playdate with a peer temperamentally suited to your child is best for avoiding fights or sensory overload. Calmer kids who don’t mind parallel play and are respectful of others are usually best. Your child may have already made friends that understand them. If so, follow their lead; they may already have a perfect play partner in mind!
5. Be Mindful of Sensory Activities
You can’t plan for everything during a playdate. Whoever the playmate is will have their way of doing things and introduce sensory experiences your child may not enjoy. Try to control these beforehand. For example, will your child play in the same room as the television? Since the playmate can also access the TV remote, be mindful of loud volumes or specific shows your child might have issues with. Remove the remote beforehand, or keep it on you. This principle applies to any gaming devices or video games the playmate may bring.
6. Communicate Expectations to Parents Involved
The best person equipped to explain to a playmate to be kind, gentle, and treat your child as they would a brother or sister is their parents. Establishing open communication with parents involved in the play date is the best to set expectations. Remember that not every parent is familiar with autism and that sometimes you will want to clarify what to best avoid around your child. Cooperation and being on the same page are critical to a successful playdate.
ABA Centers of America and Play
At ABA Centers of America, play is central to everything we do. We specialize in ABA Therapy, the only autism therapy shown by decades of scientific research to help those on the spectrum develop vital life skills. ABA Therapy has many aspects, such as data gathering and setting goals, but one of the primary methods of accomplishing change is play-based positive reinforcement.
As your child learns naturally in whatever environment they feel most comfortable, through play therapy and rewards for proper behavior, their communication, independence, and academic skills improve. The principles of ABA therapy can be taught and implemented in the playdates you schedule.
Call us at 844-923-4222 or contact our website for a free consultation.