Thursday, December 30, 2010

Working at Playing

With all this time off during winter break, most kids are probably spending a lot of time playing with their friends. It’s something that we would love for our son to do as well, but that doesn’t happen too often right now.

Like all kids with autism, Kai’s social skills are deficient and he does not play well with other children. In addition, he seems to have little interest in playing with other kids, preferring instead to play with me and Mom. And so, my wife, especially, worries that Kai will grow up without having any friends.

Over the years, we’ve set up play dates for Kai with various other children. We quickly learned that these need to be facilitated in order to have any value at all. Unlike with typical kids, you cannot just put a child with autism together with another child and expect them to play together.

Instead, a successful play date will often involve some type of organized activity with a shared goal. A skilled facilitator can help the kids learn how to take turns, communicate, and work in tandem while developing skills such as sharing, compromising, learning to think on the fly, reading social cues, and dealing with their emotions.

When Kai was younger and wasn’t in school all day, he did his ABA therapy at home and it was easier to set up play dates. His lead therapist for many years, Mary, was wonderful at facilitating activities between Kai and whatever peers we could find. But, over the past year, his schedule changed and Mary moved away and we are finding that it is much harder for us to facilitate play dates on our own.

One challenge is just finding peers that are appropriate play partners. While some neurotypical kids may potentially make good partners for our son, we are not very close with many parents. And, without a previously established relationship with the other parent, it is hard to overcome the possible stigma of having a play date end up badly because your son had some type of meltdown.

Parents of other kids on the spectrum are likely to be more understanding. But there, it is sometimes difficult to find a child that is a good match in terms of interests, temperament and abilities. And, while a trained facilitator may be able to pair two kids who have trouble with social skills, it is a lot harder for us parents.

When Kai was in school just half the day while in preschool and kindergarten, we had him in therapeutic groups that worked on these social skills. But, as he is now in school until mid afternoon, it is harder to find one that fits his schedule.

A few months ago, we thought that we found a good group for him. We brought him in to the psychologist and speech therapist who were running it so that they could make sure that he matched well with the other kids in the group. He passed the evaluation, but, after the first session, they said that he could no longer attend because his social skills were not up to par with the other children. Imagine the rejection we felt. Our son, who already has trouble fitting in, being turned away by professionals who set up a group specifically to help kids like him.

But, we’re not giving up. This is too important.

I just never would have thought that it would take so much work to teach a child how to play.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...