In a recent survey I conducted to find out what area parent’s with children on the autism spectrum (or professionals who work with children with autism) want help with most, cultivating social skills and helping their child make friends came out on top.
So a week or so ago I wrote a blog article titled, “Friendship Readiness” and discussed the importance of first making sure that your child is READY to make friends (and I shared 3 types of criteria to look for). I went on to explain that if your child is not currently showing these signs of “friendship readiness” yet, then this is what needs to be focused on first (and of course, I share how to do that).
If you have not read that article yet, I suggest you do so first (so you do not skip important steps your child needs to become socially successful).
Click here to read the “Friendship Readiness” article.
Based on that article, if your child does not yet show signs of “friendship readiness” you now know what to do.
If your child DOES show signs of ‘friendship readiness’, then the question is:
How can you help your child develop the SKILLS to cultivate friendship with peers?
Here are 3 primary strategies I want to share with you:
Strategy #1: Home play dates
This involves inviting a child to your home for a 1-2 hour play date.
*Type of child: This can be a family member, the child of a friend of yours or someone from your child’s school or after- school activities that your child seems to have an interest in. You ideally want to invite a child who has stronger social skills and can be a model and take the lead if necessary; a child who is willing and enthusiastic but not overly dominant (to make sure your child has the space to bring himself to the interaction).
*Structure: The play date should consist of an activity facilitated by you (to give them both a specific framework) and some free play time.
*Benefits: The benefits of a home play date is that it is in your home environment, where your child is most comfortable, and allows your child the opportunity to develop a more intimate relationship with one child without having to manage the sensory overload of a group of children. The additional benefit is that you have more control and can actually CHOOSE the children who will be coming to your home and make a good match for your child.
*Additional Note: If you find a child that seems to be a good match, I recommend setting up play time on a regular basis (maybe even every week) so your child can really get comfortable and go deeper with a specific child.
Strategy #2: Facilitated small group activity.
This means signing your child up for a small group activity based on his/her motivations, for example; karate, gymnastics, swimming or music.
It is important that although your child might be challenged by the activity itself, that your child mostly easily enjoys the activity so s/he has the energy left to gain from the social experience, like taking turns and working together.
*Benefits: With a small group activity the consistency is already built in (meaning it is usually offered 1-2 times a week) and it might be easier for your child to engage in an activity that has clear rules and structure. If your child thrives from clear direction and is motivated by doing what others kids are doing- this can be a great option.
Strategy #3: Double Whammy!
A very powerful combination is having your child involved in a small group activity and from that group select a child that you think would be a good match for your child as a home play date. You can either observe the activity and see if you can identify a match for a play date and if so, bring it up with the other parent, OR you can ask the facilitator if s/he has thoughts on who might be a good match for your child (share the qualities you are looking for) based on their experience of the children in that group.
The point is this; I have observed many children, of all ages, in school and am often amazed how little opportunity there is for social skill development or even social communication. To develop this skill, your child will need a very specifically designed opportunity with this focus in mind and with the right factors in place for social skills to truly blossom.
I would love to hear from you! What social skill are you focusing on with your child? Which strategy do you think would be most effective for your child? Join the conversation below.