All children can benefit from play dates, but this is especially true of kids with autism. Play dates enable children to build future relationships and practice important social skills. They allow your child to not just be a quiet observer, but to actually take part in the action.
The benefits of play dates for autistic children include:
- Improves social decision making
- Increases confidence
- Allows the practice of skills in a natural, adult-supervised setting
To make the most of your autistic child's summer, try these five play date tips.
1. Find Kids with Common Interests
Activities and clubs allow your child to find other kids with similar interests and delight in one another's company. Birthday parties are the perfect opportunity for your child to find play date matches. Other ideas may include:
- Music classes
- Lego club
- Sports activities
- Art programs
Your child's pediatric occupational therapist or their school teacher may be able to give you some pointers on some summer play date ideas.
2. Identify Skills
Relationship skills and building can often look different for children with disabilities. Autistic kids don't cultivate relationships in the same manner as neurotypicals (those without autism). The neurotypical may feel the relationship with the autistic child is "nonexistent." For many children with autism, cultivating relationships is practiced through common interests.
Typically, autistic kids enjoy playing with other kids; however, they don't interact verbally or physically with them. Some essential skills you can have your child with autism practice are:
- Nonverbal communication
- Joint attention
- Collaborative play
- Turn taking
Plan your child's play date around emerging and existing play skills so all those involved can engage and have lots of fun.
3. Practice Playing
You may find this hard to believe, but for some children, the act of playing doesn't always come to them naturally. For instance, autistic kids often have challenges with having conversation, taking turns and interpreting nonverbal gestures. Explaining and practicing this with your children can help make them feel more comfortable. Discuss strategies together with your child to help promote play.
4. Create Sensory Processing Disorder Games
Sensory processing play has a critical role in development. Any play date activity that incorporates any or all the senses of smell, sight, taste, touch and hearing is beneficial to your autistic child. Go to the dollar store and buy some plastic bins that you can fill with different sensory-friendly textures like rice, cereal, beads, pom poms, shaving cream, noodles and more. You can even add in foam letters or shapes and small toys.
5. Plan Out Play Date Activities
Play dates for children with autism takes a little planning. There are a few ways you can keep your child entertained, engaged and content while filling their day with loads of fun. Some ideas may include:
- Host a character day
- Learn yoga
- Create water games
- Make homemade ice cream
- Go to a movie
- Go on a scavenger hunt
- Set up an arts and crafts station