Tips for after-school play dates for children with autism and peers

Inclusion of those with special needs can promote good understanding, awareness and acceptance for all involved. Bestselling autism memoir author, Monica Holloway, of

Cowboy & Wills [Simon & Schuster], encourages afterschool play dates with peers as an opportunity for interaction and socialization for those with autism. She offers the following play date tips, with help from recent articles by Autism Speaks and ABC News:

  • Build Skills. Help your child to develop a set of play skills. Can your child play nicely in parallel or engage with sensory toys? These are building blocks of first play dates. 
  • Practice with Adults. Use role-playing to pre-teach play date activities to your child.
  • Find a Good Fit. Set up play dates with children who have similar interests to your child and that have play skills around the developmental level of your child, even if they are a different chronological age. Choose a playmate that is patient and kind.
  • Make a Visual Schedule. Draw or write out the structure of the play date in advance, considering activities where the kids will need to play together, nearby, or in cooperation, and include activities that all participants will enjoy. 
  • Keep it Short. Keep the activity to about 30 minutes to start, and then add time once the play dates seem successful and are ready to be longer. 
  • Positive Reinforcement. If your child is having a positive interaction, use reinforcements such as praise or a treat to reward the good behavior. If your child needs a reminder to share or play by the rules, provide coaching and  encourage cooperation.
  • Don't Give Up! While it can be difficult at times, continue this process, and I believe you will see progress, as well as better social skills, from your child's interaction with peers.

"Through play dates, my son, Wills, developed building blocks for many life skills, including forming strong bonds with peers. Play dates weren't always easy for him, but through preparation and organization, we learned to make those types of interactions successful, positive and meaningful for all involved," says Holloway.

 Monica Holloway is the bestselling author of Cowboy & Wills, a Mother's Choice Award's Gold recipient, and the critically acclaimed author of the memoir Driving With Dead People. Holloway lives with her son and husband in California.