Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Play Dates For Children With Autism

The desire to have one's child interact with and to be accepted by others is the wish of all parents. When this does not occur the parent may become concerned, anxious or worried. Parents of autistic children face this dilemma on a daily basis. They are very aware that their children interact differently and display behaviors that are confusing to most.
The autistic child's ability to interact and engage with others is limited and varies on a continuum from complete non-involvement with others to sporadic and limited involvement. For the autistic child involvement with others can be confusing, intimidating and frightening. Autistic children can benefit positively to the exposure to other children through play activities.
Some suggestions to consider in setting up play dates:
1. Begin slowly and with patience. First, have a conversation with the parent of the child you want to set the play date with. Come up with a simple way to educate the parent about your child's behaviors and your desire to have the two children play. If the parent is receptive, the next step is to talk with the non-autistic child and parent together about your child's desire to play. Next talk to your own child about your intention;
2. Set up the play date in your home. Your child is familiar with this environment;
3. Limit the time based on your child's ability to be with others. I would suggest a half hour. Decide on an activity that you know that your child can engage in. Supervise the two children in the activity. If they seem engaged let the children continue the activity under your watchful eye;
4. At first parallel play may be all your child can tolerate;
5. You may want to have multiple activities available if the children do not respond to the initial activity;
6. Leave time for cleaning up, a story and refreshments;
7. Continue with short play dates, but increase the time with others as your own child can tolerate longer interactions;
8. After the play date you may want to check in with the other parent to see how her child handled the play date. If things went relatively well, you may want to continue such interactions. It is important to have a willing other parent and child that feel comfortable in supporting these activities.
As a point of caution, do not give up. This will be a slow process, but one that can be rewarding for all involved.
Karen Savlov is a psychoanalyst and Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in West Los Angeles, California. My specialty is Autism Spectrum Disorders, anger, dissociation, depression, anxiety and relationships. For new and creative ways to think about autism read and follow my blog at http://www.wonderingaboutautism.blogspot.com. I can also be followed on Twitter at Autism Thoughts.

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