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How to Plan a Special Needs Playdate

If your child has autism, scheduling a playdate can feel a bit overwhelming. Children with autism 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 you later regret. It takes a great deal of patience and understanding to plan a successful special needs playdate. Take a look at some helpful tips as you start introducing your child to new social experiences.

Make Sure Your Child Is Ready

Before you start planning your child’s first playdate, you need to make sure that they’ve acquired a few important skills. The chances of success will be a lot higher if your child has some play experience. Playing with toys with your child is a great first step. You’ll be there to manage your child’s mood and behavior and they learn how to play with toys and games. Your child will also fare better if they’ve spent some time around their peers. They don’t have to be a social butterfly, but it’s better if they’ve shown some interest in children around their age.

Finding Friends

Finding someone that will respect and understand your child is usually the hardest part for parents. Start with someone that your child has met before. You can try one of your child’s peers from school, the neighborhood playground, church, or a local recreational center. The more experience they have with your child, the easier the playdate will be. Look for children that have similar interests as your child such as a certain toy, books, a game, or their favorite park. You can start introducing yourself to the other parents at school or in your neighborhood. Depending on your child’s skill level, you can look for playmates without special needs or children that are a bit younger or older.

Schedule Activities

Most children with autism desire a certain level of stability and routine. Coming up with a strict schedule will help your child adjust to playing with others. Think carefully about what kinds of activities both children will enjoy. You can talk to the other parent to learn more about what their child likes to do. Activities that involve building or making something are a great place to start. Once you have a schedule in mind, talk to your child about the playdate. Tell them exactly what to expect including the activities involved, whom they’ll be playing with, where they’ll be, and what could go wrong. It’s okay if they don’t get along, but remind your child to share and be polite around guests.

Choosing a Location

Think about what type of environment both children will enjoy the most. It’s usually best to avoid overcrowded, noisy areas such as the mall or an amusement park. If it’s your child’s first playdate, you’ll probably want to stay at home or in another neutral, safe environment.

Know Your Child’s Limits

Plan ahead by scheduling an end time. You can start off slow, maybe 30 minutes to an hour. As your child becomes more familiar with playdates, try to increase the duration little by little. If you notice your child’s mood starting to shift, you might want to intervene or end the playdate early. Depending on the situation, let children be themselves. It’s best not to micromanage every move your child makes. If they argue for a moment, let your child handle the situation naturally. Patience and problem solving are what friendships are all about.

Manage Your Expectations

Building social skills and meaningful friendships take time. The first playdate usually isn’t a perfect fit. Be prepared to handle some uncomfortable situations such as shouting, crying or some inappropriate behavior. A disappointing playdate isn’t the end of the world. Your child will learn to grow from these experiences in their own way. As a parent, the best thing that you can do is to try to open your child up to new experiences. If at first you don’t succeed, try scheduling another playdate after a few few weeks. When your child finally finds the perfect playmate, it will be well worth the wait.