5 Play Date Tips: Help Your Autistic Child Learn to Play

If you’re a mom of an autistic child who needs practice to better learn how to play with others, try arranging play dates. Here are five tips to help your autistic child learn to play.

Our tips range from inviting kids to play dates who are developmentally ahead of your son to observing him at play to identify his social skill deficits so you can help him improve.

Like many moms of special needs kids, you may feel that your child doesn’t have good friendships or play with other kids often enough. He may enjoy playing by himself better than with others.

Here are some tips for helping your child to learn to play with others by arranging play dates that we found online. You will find links to each of the references in case you want to find more information about each tip.

Benefits of Learning to Play

The benefits of helping your child to learn to play with and have successful interactions with others are huge. It’s widely agreed that children are excellent teachers of other children.

– Experts say that children who become comfortable playing with others:
– Feel good about themselves
– Practice important social skills like sharing and taking turns 
– Learn awareness of other people’s feelings

According to Kathy Hirsch-Pasek, a child development psychologist at Temple University who researches the benefits of play, kids “…get to try things out with no consequences” she adds that play allows kids to wear different hats and to master the social rules—-which is huge. Source: Livescience.com

5 Tips to Help Your Child Learn to Play

1. Choose play dates carefully. Invite kids for your son’s play dates that are either a bit older or higher functioning than he is. This mom said on this YouTube video (3 minutes long) how much play dates helped her autistic son. She always made sure to arrange play dates with other kids who were a bit ahead of her son developmentally. She recommends other moms do the same.

2. Prepare your child for the play date.  Talking about what to expect can ease the anxiety for your child.

Provide concrete words to help: “when your friend comes over, show him/her the play room or toy area and/or bedroom (if you have toys located there).”  Once finished, ask (the other child), “what do you want to do?” This tip comes from Pam Walsh, a mom and writer at the Hartford Autism & Parenting Examiner. Her article is titled, 5 Secrets for a Successful Play Date and is well worth reading! You can see full article by clicking here.

3. Look for specific social skills your child needs help on. If other children ignore your child during the play date watch carefully and see whether  you can work out why. What are his social skill deficits? Does he need to work on a social skill that you can help him learn? Ask your child’s teacher if you need help determining which specific social skills he needs to work on. Source: Raising Children Network

4. Use Meetup.com to find groups that organize play dates for special needs kids. Search for Meetup groups of play dates for special needs kids near your home. If you haven’t heard of meetup.com it’s a website that makes it easy for neighbors to get together to share things, do things or learn something. Meetup is free to join and you can search for the topic you’re interested in. For example, search for groups focused on “play dates for children with autism”. See this link for a group in New Jersey in the US.

5. Prepare for the end of the play date in advance. This valuable tip is from the National Autism Resources Blog. Practice giving a time count down such as a 5-minute reminder the play date is going to end.  Prepare a reward or incentive that’s waiting for them after their friend leaves. Remember transitions are hard and no one likes to end a good time.

We hope these tips help you to find new ways to help your child learn to play by arranging useful play dates.


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