Tips for Planning the Best Playdate for Children With Autism
Many parents who have children with autism may feel like playdates are obsolete due to their child’s social, play, or verbal skills. But they’re mistaken! Children with autism can have successful playdates regardless of their skill levels.
Children socialize through playing with their peers, making it necessary to help improve and master socialization. Children can learn how to share, understand social cues, manage emotions, and solve problems by playing with each other.
Don’t feel discouraged. Here are five tips for planning the best playdate for children with autism.
Practice Makes Perfect!
Before the playdate, identify a few activities your child enjoys: puzzles, video games, treasure hunts, board games, or arts and crafts. Practice playing those activities for about 10 minutes a day leading to the playdate.
While playing with your child, teach the concept of taking turns and engagement. The more practice you do with your child, the more likely they will exhibit these behaviors during the playdate.
The Location Matters
When scheduling time with their pals, starting at home is always best. This will give your child the security of being in a familiar space, surrounded by their items, and could help them not become overstimulated.
Try New Places Later
Starting in an unfamiliar space could lead to anxiety or stress, disrupting the playdate. However, as you plan more playdates, you could test the waters and host an educational or fun “field trip” somewhere else.
Consider the Length
The most important tip for planning a successful playdate for children with autism is to keep it an appropriate length. The biggest mistake parents make is setting up playdates that last for hours and hours. Socializing is hard work for your child, and it can become exhausting after a while.
Keep It Short
For the first playdate, keep it around 45 minutes to an hour, but never go over an hour and a half—unless your child is having a good time.
Remember to Have a Structure
Many children with autism love structure and would prefer if they knew the schedule of events. When setting up a playdate, create a plan your child approves of. Planning activities will help keep the playdate fun while providing a routine that your child knows.
However, remember that a parent should always be present to prevent spontaneous events or rough play from happening.
Plan a Refresh Period
While planning the playdate, you should plan a calming period. During this time, your child and their pal will enjoy snacks, water, and a movie or calmer activity. This will help level out their mood and signal to your child that playtime is almost over.
Use This Period to Introduce Social Cues
A refresh period will also help them recognize social cues, as they can tell when it’s time to calm down and end the playdate.
Photo – Nicola Barts