Playdates For Children With Special Needs

Playdates For Children With Special Needs

Playdates are vital for all children to hone critical social skills on which future relationships will be built. But with special needs children, scheduling a playdate can feel a bit overwhelming. Special needs children tend to have a difficult time interacting with their peers. As a parent, you want to help your child build important social skills but you don’t want to put your child in a situation that might upset or interrupt the behavior of your children. It takes a great deal of patience and understanding to plan a successful special needs playdate.

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The benefits of playdates include:

  1. Increase in Confidence

  2. Improved social decision making

  3. Learning Problem-solving

  4. Emotional Growth

  5. Improved social skills

Many parents of children who are typically developing and those with special needs set up playdates to encourage the building of critical skills and friendships.  The most important lesson learned from playing with a variety of children is that every child is different and special!  Throughout life, we meet and interact with people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities and learning from each other can truly enhance our life.

HOW TO BEGIN?

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Practice Playing

It may be hard to believe, but the act of playing doesn’t come naturally to some kids.  For example, children with autism often have difficulty with taking turns, speaking up, and interpreting nonverbal gestures. Practicing and explaining this to your child may help him to feel more comfortable. Together, discuss strategies that can be used to help facilitate play. What is a facial expression?  Make different faces and ask your child to guess your emotion.

Identify mutual interests

Identify what the children have in common and build activities upon mutual interests. So, set up Legos and build Angry Birds or Chhota Bheem games.  If the children like the same movie, set up puzzles, art, baking, or sensory play based on the movie. Siblings should not be a part of the playdate to allow for targeted friendship building between the two participants.

Start with shorter playdates

Keep the first playtimes shorter until the children become more comfortable with each other.  Consider having more short yet frequent play times with the same friend since relationships can take time to build.  It’s important to end on a good note. So, if the children are in any type of conflict, help to facilitate a peaceful ending.

Consider food allergies and sensitivities

When planning a snack contact the other child’s parent to determine which foods are safe for both children. It can be very meaningful for the other parent and is a critical step to avoiding potential life-threatening reactions to foods.  Do not be offended if the children do not eat what is set out.  The kids may just be too excited to eat!

Be mindful of any physical limitations

For example, many children with sensory issues do not prefer to get messy, dirty or wet but they can be super at doing other things such as building or creating.  It’s always a sensitive topic to talk about someone’s weaknesses, instead ask the parent what their kid is comfortable doing.

Supervise and support throughout the playdate

Since children of all abilities have different personalities, issues are bound to arise. Consider ways to resolve conflicts such as asking both kids to take five deep breaths or closing their eyes and counting to ten.  Make sure to ask the other parent which strategies are used when their child becomes stressed or upset.

Nothing is perfect

Do not put unnecessary pressure on yourself.  Both typically developing kids and children with special needs are learning while practicing play and social skills.  When learning a skill we all make mistakes. Our children benefit from every social interaction opportunity. Give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy watching new friendships bloom and develop.

Sayee Deshpande
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