Arranging play dates can be extremely beneficial to your special-needs child. A playmate who doesn’t have a developmental delay can be an excellent model for age-appropriate behavior. Especially when there are no siblings of similar age in the home, your child will benefit from watching peers cooperate and communicate. What doesn’t come naturally for your child can be learned through repetitive play. The earlier your child learns appropriate social behaviors, the better.
Elicit Help from Friends and Family
Contact family members or friends who have interactive children your child’s age. Explain that your child needs play time with peers who can model the typical behaviors of kids his age. Try to set up regular visits of relatively short duration (an hour or less) with a child (or two at most). Four play dates a week would be ideal, but this may not be feasible. It would be best to alternate children so that each child has only one or two visits per week. You do not want the visiting child to feel annoyed by the routine.
Mediate the Play Date
Explain to the child visitor that your son or daughter needs help learning how to play with friends. This will eliminate confusion if, at first, your son or daughter refuses to interact properly. Prepare simple activities, like watercolors or play dough, in advance. Have a snack. Gently coax your child into giving attention to the other child’s behavior. “Look at what Michael is doing. He’s rolling the clay into a ball.” Keep it light and fun. Help demonstrate manners. “Michael had the drum first. When he’s finished, it’s your turn.” Don’t give too many instructions to the playmate. Most children intuitively know how to interact with a withdrawn peer. And again, you don’t want the routine to become tedious to your visitor.
Practice is the Key
Don’t expect miracles at first. It’s the pattern of repeated interactions that will, in time, open up your child to socializing and making friends. As with learning any new skill, patience is required. Your child can learn to experience the delights of peer relationships with time and encouragement.