Playing with Peers

How can we help our child have a successful play date?

Playing with peers can be difficult for children with ASD. To maximize success, use the following 4 steps:

1) Make sure your child is ready for play dates. It helps to have the following skills.

  • Basic play skills. Your child needs to be able to play with toys & games, ideally those that interest other children his age.
  • Some awareness & interest in peers. Your child doesn’t need to be skilled in interacting with other children. But it helps if he’s interested & motivated to play with them.
  • Can “practice play” with adults. This is the first step to interacting with children. Adults tend to be more structured & predictable & can provide appropriate prompting as needed. This makes it easier for children with ASD to learn basic play skills such as taking turns & being able to play & share different toys.

2) Choose the right playmate.

It’s important to make sure that the friend is a good match for your child. Find a friend who shares some of your child’s special interests. If your child’s play skills are behind his peers, it can also help if the playmate is a little younger. In general, look for playmates who are patient & flexible. Many children with ASD do well with peers who are friendly & willing to help draw others into social interactions.

3) Prepare

  • Preselect the activities. Start with familiar activities that have clear steps or roles (eg. making simple cookies, board game, video game or tag). In general, structured activities are easier than unstructured ones. But, an unstructured activity that taps your child’s special interests (cars? trains? Lion King?) can be successful.
  • Have a structured play date plan. Many children with ASD have difficulty with transitions. Give your child a visual schedule of the planned play activities. If your child likes to play with a wide variety of toys, have he & his friend take turns choosing what to do next. Have a set end time. Keep it under 30 minutes for the first play date. If successful, add time to the next visit.
  • Role play & practice how to play with friends. Practice the activities you’ve planned & describe/show your child the play date plan. Talk about things that might happen, such as the other child wanting to do something different than what your child wants to do. That will enable the two of you to talk about how your child should handle these situations.

4) Be ready to:

  • Coach your child. He may need reminders to wait his turn, share, respond when his friend speaks to him, etc.
  • Coach your child’s friend. With the right playmate, offer a few suggestions for interacting with your child. For instance, to “try again” if your child doesn’t immediately respond to a suggestion & to “gently ignore” an undesired behavior such as yelling.
  • Let kids be kids. Coaching is important but give your child & his playmate a chance to work things out before you intervene.

(Taken from Autism Speaks)

Here are other links to help teach your children play skills.

Social and Play Skills

How to Help Autistic Kids with Play

Joining In Play

Teaching Skills for Playing with Other Children

Teaching Play Skills

How to Play a Special Needs Play Date

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