Inviting your child’s friend with ASD round to play
There have been some heartbreaking stories in the news and on social media about children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) being excluded from parties and play dates, leading to children feeling isolated, and parents becoming upset and frustrated. Social situations can be challenging for children with ASD; different noises and smells, and unpredictability, can be overwhelming for them. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be invited – far from it!
For parents who don’t have much experience with ASD, it can be difficult to understand the child and their needs; the way they express themselves can be different to what the parent is used to, and is easily misinterpreted. For example, some children with ASD will need to have time out to themselves when things get too overwhelming for them. If a parent sees a child sat away from the group with their headphones on, they might assume that they are bored, or they don’t want to be there.
Children with ASD deserve to be invited to parties and play dates as much as any other child. Many parents worry that they won’t be able to handle the child’s needs, or won’t know what to do if the child has a problem – so here are some tips to give you the confidence to open up your home to a child with ASD.
Tips for your play date
Talk to the parents
Who knows your child – their interests, allergies, food preferences – better than you? The same goes for children with ASD. Every child with ASD will have different needs, so the best thing you can do is ask their parents what you should know before they come over, and be open to what they have to say. It may be a gradual thing, and it will help to make friends with the parents – it can be very lonely being the parent of a child with ASD. And remember that parents of children with special needs are used to answering questions!
Find out what interests your child’s friend
Ask the parents or your child to find out what the child likes to do, and what they are particularly good at. One mum we spoke to suggests taking the children somewhere, “where they both know where they are, are equals, and where their relationship is dependent on their ability to run and scream!”. Find something that both children can join in with and enjoy – what your child wants to do is equally important.
Open-ended toys and games where there is no pressure to win, and no right or wrong answers, are a good way to go as they are ‘just for fun’. Rory’s Story Cubes encourage children to make up their own stories, using pictures on a set of dice, so the story is never the same!
“Communication can sometimes be a challenge between a child with ASD and the rest of the world,” says Emily Moore, a learning support assistant at the Market Field School for children with learning difficulties. “Allowing them to have freedom to make their own stories and to explore their imagination will help the child bring others into how they see the world.“
Be mindful of sensory sensitivities and eating habits
Children with ASD can be sensitive to noises, smells, and textures. As we have mentioned in the tip above, the best way to know about this is to talk to the child’s parents, and plan. For example, you might want to avoid using strong room fragrances.
Similarly, children may have very specific habits when it comes to food. It may be that they don’t like certain textures or that certain foods must never touch – these little things can really make a difference. Children with ASD are particularly susceptible to food allergies and intolerances too, so make sure you are aware of these as well. And don’t be offended if they don’t want to eat – they may be too excited!
Take things step by step, and plan the play date
Avoid overwhelming your child’s friend with too much change, by slowly increasing familiarity. You may want to start with a visit to their house, where they are already comfortable, so you can meet them and their parents. When they do visit your house, it may help to invite one of their parents over to begin with, while they settle in.
Start with short, regular playdates and build up to longer ones. This way, you and your child can begin to build a picture of what their friend likes to do when they come over, and they can become more comfortable visiting. Make a plan for each visit and review it with both children so they feel confident with the routine; let their parents know what you have planned as well, so they can discuss the plan with their child if they need to. Avoid making any last minute changes unless absolutely necessary, as this can be unsettling for a child with ASD.
Don’t take it personally if they change their mind
This is another time when the relationship between parents is paramount; the child’s parents need to feel comfortable cancelling at the last minute, and will really appreciate having another parent who can be flexible and empathetic. You also need to be able to explain to your child why this may happen, and that it is not because their friend doesn’t like them – again, ask the child’s parents how they would prefer this to be dealt with, as it is likely the children will talk about it when they see each other next. Children are generally very understanding, but they may have some questions that you will need to answer to help them along the way.
You are your child’s most important role model; if you treat everyone equally and respect diversity, your child will do the same. But more than that, you will make such a difference for your child’s friend. Cara Kosinski (mum of two, pediatric occupational therapist, speaker and author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist Book Series) says, “As a parent of a child with Autism, I can tell you that even if your playdate isn’t perfect, the fact that you cared enough to try means so much!”
Why not invite your child’s friend along to an ASD-friendly screening, or let their creative juices flow with Rory’s Story Cubes, both which are up for grabs in this month’s Fun4All giveaway!
Sponsored Article: This article may contain links to internal/external content related to our sponsor (Asmodee UK). All opinions are our own and all products mentioned have been approved by Fundamentally Children through strict, independent testing processes.
This post was written by Claire Gillies