If your child has a developmental or intellectual disability, you have likelyobserved them struggling with social interactions and play with peers fromtime to time. Children with Autism have particular difficulty with socialskills, as do some children with ADHD or a sensory processing disorder.
Even your typically developing child can demonstrate behaviors that makeplay with peers a challenge at times. Whether it’s a communication orlanguage delay, sensory processing deficit, motor challenge or difficult behavior, your child may be strugglingwith building and maintaining friendships.
With careful planning andsupport in key areas, however, your child can experience success
developing play skills and meaningful relationships with others; andmore importantly, have fun!
Is your child ready for a play date?
- Most children are eager to be around and play with others. While it’snot essential that your child be skilled in everything social, it helpsif they are at least interested in and motivated to play with peers.
- It also helps if your child has some basic play skills for playing withtoys and/or games. Skills that are of interest to their peers furtherpromote interactions.
- Finally, if your child is having some success playing with adults, theyare more likely to carryover this success in their play with peers.Some key basic skills to focus oninclude turn taking, sharing, allowing a play partner to change theplay activity and transitioning between tasks.
Choosing a playmate
- The age of your child’s playmate can be key. If your child’s skills arequite delayed, a younger child may be a better match. If your childhas some difficult behaviors, a slightly older child might be best asthey can often be more flexible, patient and put strategies to usethat can facilitate success for your child during play.
- In general, your child will likely have more success if their playmateis interested in some of the same things.
- Compatibility with the parents of your child’s peers can be importantin many ways. Adults who have an understanding and appreciationfor children’s differences and who can interpret your child’s difficultieswith flexibility and compassion only furthers your child’s chancesfor social and play success. These parents can also become a greatsupport system for you as well as great friends.
Setting up the environment for success
- If your child is new to play dates, keep the environment familiar, suchas your house or familiar playground. Once they are having somesocial and play success, branch out to friends’ houses or communitysettings such as a less familiar playground, pool or museum.
- Keep the play environment neat and organized. This will help your childstay better regulated, less distractible and minimize their tendencyto flit from one thing to another without purpose.
- Plan your play activities ahead of time and have everything you needwell organized and easy to get to. Again, let your child’s interests beyour guide, but be careful not to be too rigid in choosing the samethings all the time.
- Helping your child know when things begin and end can keep themon task, help them with transitions and minimize behaviors. A visualschedule of your planned activities and visual timer can be veryuseful in this regard.
- Preparing a social story about play dates and reading it to your childin the week leading up to the event will help prepare them in advance.
- Know your child’s sensory preferences and challenges and take theminto account when choosing activities and the environment your childwill play in. If your child is under-responsive, you may want to setup the environment and choose activities that offer more sensoryinput, such as movement. If your child tends to be over-responsive,minimize the distractions in the play area, keep the room neat andorganized, and choose activities that don’t overly challenge theirsensory sensitivities. Do keep in mind, though, that your child maybe more likely to step outside their sensory comfort zone when theyhave a great peer model doing the same.
- Keep the play date short. Play dates that go longer than an hour,particularly when your child is developing new social and play skills,may be too much for your child. Ending a play date before your childis tired and overwhelmed will promote a feeling of confidence andsuccess. You can always play longer at the next visit!
Be ready to step in if needed
- Your child may need some coaching on when to wait, when to shareor how to let someone else change the plan.
- Your child’s playmate may need some coaching on how to encourageyour child to stay engaged or how to ignore or manage certainbehaviors.
- While stepping in is important, letting your child and his/her playmatework things out when they can is important, too. It is not necessaryto correct every mistake or referee every disagreement. Step in whenyou need to and praise them when you don’t!
At Pediatric Therapies, we are committed not only to helping your child realize his/her extraordinary possibilities, but also to focusing on the needs of your family. If you would like to know more about how we can help your child, give us a call today!