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For autistic children, making friends can be tough. As parents, we always want to protect our little ones, but it can be tricky to make the other kids accept them for who they are. Here are 4 ideas for encouraging your child to socialise in a comfortable and controlled way.
You may find yourself asking “should I force my child to be social, or let them keep to themselves?” As we know, when it comes to raising children on the spectrum, there isn’t one simple answer. What works for one child may not work for another. Some autistic children, especially girls,, can force themselves to fit in by copying the behaviour of their classmates. But this can be stressful and exhausting. However, it’s always a good idea to try things with your child to see how they react and cope.
So we’ve come up with these 4 ideas for encouraging your child to socialise in a comfortable and controlled way.
1. Introduce ‘play dates’
A play date is a simple arrangement: children play together at home, while the parents catch up over a cup of tea and slice of cake. But it can have its challenges. Some autistic children might find it overwhelming and want to leave, especially if there’s more than one child involved.
Here’s some ideas to try and make play dates more comfortable for your child:
- Invite a friend who has similar interests to your child.
- Keep it on your own child’s turf and host the guests at your home.
- Speak to the child’s parents in advance, so they know what to expect and are prepared to be patient.
- Don’t force your child to play with the other but give them a gentle nudge to join in an activity.
- If you keep it short and simple, you may start to see good results.
2. Include play in your routine
It’s well-known that many autistic children respond well to a routine. So introducing a weekly play date into your child’s week might help them get used to it. If you can keep all elements of the ‘date’ consistent, then your child will begin to expect them and hopefully begin to look forward to them. Obviously, it’s not always easy to keep things consistent where children are concerned! Another way to help your child get used to these ‘dates’ is to tell stories which explain why it’s nice to do activities with a friend and why having a friend can be fun.
3. Planning ahead for Parties
Birthday parties can be difficult for children with autism. Especially if they don’t know things like who will be there, what food will be served and what games will be played. So here are some tips for planning ahead to help you all deal with birthday parties:
- Arrive early
If you’re one of the first to get there, your child can choose a prime spot to sit in. Then they will be able to give the birthday boy or girl a gift without a crowd. It also gives them time to let off some steam and run around before others arrive. They can also get used to the theme of the party, the balloons and anything else they may not have expected.
- Stay with your child
When kids reach a certain age, it becomes normal to just drop them off at a birthday party and make your escape. However, for parents of autistic children, it’s best to stay with them the whole time to ensure they’re OK. Then you’ll also be able to make a quick exit together if you need to.
- Visit the venue in advance
If you get the chance, this gives your child the chance to get used to some new surroundings without a crowd and without feeling rushed. You can slowly introduce your child to the idea of a party and show them around.
4. Knowing when to stop
Unfortunately, even with the best planning, sometimes introducing your child to a new social situation just won’t work. But you know your own child best, and if you feel they’re becoming stressed or anxious, you should remove them from the situation. You can always try again another day but pushing for results is not the answer.
Autistic children can lead just as full a life as anyone else. But remember, sometimes it means doing things a little differently. And that’s ok.
Petra Ecclestone is a Philanthropist and mother of three. She is founder and Director of the Petra Eccleston Foundation, providing services and support for young children with suspected or diagnosed autism and their families.
Copyright © 2019 The Brightest Star. Content curated by Petra Ecclestone