Oct. 23, 2008 -- Question: How can I get neighborhood children to come over to play with my child with autism?
Answer: Some families wonder about how to facilitate playing, play dates with their child and neighborhood children. "How can we get the neighbors to come over and interact with our child?"
The real experts on this question and this strategy are other parents of children with autism. And I would strongly encourage families to connect with local resources, with the local chapter of an autism support group. They're the ones, those families are the ones that have lived this and really have lots of great tips for how they've managed this question.
In fact, the question could be reframed to ask of typically developing kids and families how they can engage children with autism in a similar pursuit, as everyone is very important in society's overall fabric.
Some of the tips that parents have shared with me is include identifying a single family in the neighborhood, for starters, who has a child that may be of similar age, but more importantly who may have similar interests to those of your own child; a child who has been playing with toys or games that you know your child also enjoys.
A call to that family and an invitation for a brief, supervised, sometimes very structured and facilitated play experience can go a long way. It's important not to ask too much, too early, and to let the kids find their own way. After all, kids are very tolerant of differences from one to another.
Another strategy that can be helpful, both at home and at school, is education. Sometimes parents and other children just don't know how to account for the behavioral differences that may be clear in a child with autism, and giving them a call and informing them about why a child does certain things or needs things to be a certain way can go a long way to facilitate interaction.