When children with special needs and typically developing children become friends at school, church or through after-school activities, both children benefit. When a friendship begins blooming, parents should encourage the relationship as they would any other childhood friendship.
A great way to do that is to have them get together for a play date outside of school or their shared activities.
1. Practice makes perfect
Barbara Boroson, a licensed master’s-level social worker and mother of a child on the autism spectrum, suggests parents of both typically developing kids and children with special needs should role-play with their children before the play date. “Take a few minutes to guide her toward considering her friend’s interests, hobbies, likes and dislikes,” she says.
2. Ask the parents
Talk to the parent of the child with special needs before the play date to see if they have any suggestions that may help it go smoothly, such as activities the child enjoys. Be sure to ask about any allergies or medical conditions you should be aware of.
3. Set sharing guidelines
Know that sharing can often be an issue. “Some children with special needs keep very careful track of certain toys and accessories and cannot tolerate anyone touching, moving or changing them,” says Boroson. “Before another child comes to play, it can be helpful to suggest that your child put away any toys he feels he cannot share and know that any toys he leaves out must be shared fully.”
4. Find common interests
Encourage the kids to bond over common interests, such as sports, books, music and games. If an activity is going to be challenging for the child with special needs, steer the children to an activity that both kids can participate in. Many parents are surprised at how naturally they bond and select activities that both are interested in.
5. There’s always next time
If the play date does not go as planned, remember play dates with two typically developing children do not always go smoothly. Brainstorm with the other parent ideas to help the next play date go better, such as meeting at a quieter location or meeting at a different time of day.