Making friends is hard. For many people. Not just people with autism or communication disorders. That said, it is one of the big struggles that we see starting with our young kiddos that also struggle with autism and other delays and disorders.
As a speech-language pathologist I talk to all kinds of parents, who’s children are struggling to even know how to approach other children. Often times their child just sits on the side watching other children from across the playground while the other children happily play.
So what do we do?
Here are 4 tips to help you get started:
- ASK yourself a question: “Does my child WANT to play with these other children? OR are they happy and content sitting here watching?” It may be the case that your child prefers to play alone. If that is true, LET THEM!!! Yes, that’s right, let them play alone. We do not want to force your child to do anything that they might not be ready for. If we force them into it, who are we really serving? Our children or ourselves? Now, if you are thinking well they really DO want to play with others and they just don’t know HOW…keep reading J If you also aren’t quite sure…go to tip #2 which may help bring about some clarification.
- If you aren’t sure whether or not your child wants to play with others, but you know they appear to be interested (they are watching from across the playground but not pushing their way in yet…), put your child with younger peers who might follow their lead and/or that may be on a similar level play-wise with your child. When I have used this strategy in the past, it has paid off beautifully! Putting your child with other children that they can relate to will help them THRIVE!
Now if you are thinking, sure but who wants to hang out with younger kids? WELL…your child might, so be open to it! As my grandma always says, age is just a number.
You can also try matching your child with another child that has autism but this does not always work out if they each have their own ideas and neither child is flexible about bending for the other child 😉
- Start with just ONE other child. A playground can be a very over-stimulating place. It may help to start at your home or at some other neutral place where you know you will have relaxed and quiet surroundings, starting play dates with just ONE friend! It is important that you are there, if even just to observe, so that you can jump in when and if your support is needed. When your child starts to do well with play dates one on one with another kiddo, then add one more kiddo in to the mix. Releasing your child on to the playground when they aren’t ready is like throwing them to the wolves! It’s scary and they have no clue what to do…so start with smaller, more controlled play dates to teach them the skills they need before releasing them to the wild…er…playground 😉
- Create a “social” group or club. You can do this for kids at any age. How involved you will need to be will depend on your child’s age and communication skills. In order to do this, think about what your child LOVES. Think, what’s your child’s love or what is it they are obsessed with right now? Once you know what the group will be focused around, find other peers that also have that same interest/obsession.
Keep in mind, the kids in the group can range in ages (a few years here or there will not make a difference). The focus of the club and the time spent together will surround the shared interest. For example, if the shared interest is Thomas the Train, have a play date with Thomas and Friends, build a train track and take turns making it, while sharing the different pieces and trains. For older kids, they may get together and play mine craft or talk about comic books, etc. Whatever it may be, when the interest is shared it makes it much easier to pull kids together and build friendships since they already have something in common.
Every child deserves to belong to something. What are you going to do to help your child (when they are ready) know and feel like they belong to a group of friends?
If you need more help and you know your child will benefit from using pictures to learn exactly what to say to a friend (to ask them to play) you’ll want to grab this…
You can do this! Your child needs you