ENGAGING YOUR AUTISTIC CHILD IN SOCIAL INTERACTION
As parents, one of the biggest worries concerning our autistic children is the isolation which being neurodivergent brings. So often I meet adults who share with me that the worst and most disabling aspect of their lives is the loneliness. I’ve also had young adults tell me that they don’t want to always be lonely because life would be unbearable and they wouldn’t want to be here.
Wherever I do talks or trainings I am always asked by parents and carers what they can do to help children interact and play with others. Just to reassure you, many small children often begin exploring through play on their own and want things on their own terms. Sharing is a common skill to learn for all children of all abilities. But what can we do when our children really do struggle to engage with others ?
In my experience as a mum to 4 neurodiverse children and as a professional with almost 20 years experience, I would advise that tapping into something your child loves is a great place to start. Begin to play with them as a parent first. For instance if it’s trains or dinosaurs, musical instruments or building blocks that they adore, just get down on the floor with them and copy how they are playing. Put them in charge. Then slowly introduce your own ideas such as adding a bridge or an engine house if they are really into trains for example. I find this to be a really successful way to sow the seeds of the idea of playing and sharing play with other children.
With music I have done the same. I have copied the child and the noises they make which immediately gets their attention. I’ve often made huge break throughs in this way. Then after a few sessions I might introduce softer playing of an instrument and that gorgeous exploration through play starts to grow as they then copy me. If you make any activity you share COMPLETELY child-led, you build that essential trust, that communication, and the doors into their works beautifully open.
If your child is very sensory, set up floor or table play using sand, water beads, rainbow rice ( using food colouring) and water. Then just add cups, spoons or pans. After you have played with your child in this way, it introduces them to playing with others. Tables full of fidget toys can also help.
Many professionals are now urging parents and teachers to encourage sensory play as a part of the daily routine. Routine for autistic children is an incredibly important factor in their development. Adding sensory play into their daily routine helps them to process information, including atmosphere and surroundings and help them to become more comfortable in social situations.
Playful activities such as rough and tumble play, which are very physical can also help tremendously. Activities that involve jumping up and down, squatting, climbing, throwing and balancing stimulate gross motor skills as well as providing your child to explore their environment, and interact with other children. Best of all, this leads to playing with neurotypical children also, so they will begin to learn from each other in the most natural and inclusive way.
All children need all the warmth and advice they can get, but our differently wired children need these things even more. They need to feel they belong and the earlier this happens the better. It’s within human beings to be social; it’s part of who we are. No one should be excluded and as Einstein himself said, the best way to access education is through play.
I really hope this helps.
If you’d like to have more ideas, I share lots of ideas and activities every week ( almost daily ) on my public Facebook groups https://www.facebook.com/
Thad care everyone and I’ll see you next week.
Lots of love,