Teaching Children on the Autism Spectrum the Social Etiquette of "Play"

"Any suggestions on how to teach my child [on the autism spectrum] how to play with other children his age without causing arguments and upsetting them. He has to have things go his way or he gets very controlling and nasty."
 
Young people with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) often have trouble with social interactions. Understanding what someone is saying and being able to react to it quickly and appropriately is critical to being part of a conversation. But some kids on the autism spectrum can’t do that without help.

These kids also tend to have difficulty taking and waiting for turns, playing by the rules, and reacting appropriately if they're not winning. But that doesn't mean that the youngster who is different socially can't be included. Your son or daughter can learn the social etiquette of play, how to avoid and resolve conflicts, and how to show some empathy.

Techniques to help teach your child how to get along with peers during "play":

1. Play with your son or daughter in a “peer-like” way. Kids with HFA learn crucial skills through play with other kids, but they also learn a great deal through play with their mom or dad. Those kids whose moms and dads frequently play with them have more advanced social skills and get along better with peers. This is especially true, however, when the mother or father plays with their youngster in an effectively positive and peer-like way. Observational studies indicate that the parents of the most socially competent kids laugh and smile often, avoid criticizing their youngster during play, are responsive to the youngster's ideas, and aren't too directive.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

2. Provide your son or daughter with opportunities to play with peers. There is no substitute for the experience kids on the spectrum get from interacting with peers. Kids who have had many opportunities to play with peers from an early age are clearly at an advantage when they enter a formal group setting (e.g., daycare, public school). These young people especially benefit when they can develop long- lasting relationships. Kids - even toddlers - who are able to participate in stable peer groups become more competent over time and have fewer difficulties than kids whose peer group membership shifts. In other words, kids develop more sophisticated social strategies when they are able to maintain stable relationships with other kids they like over long periods.



3. Reflect a positive, resilient attitude toward “social setbacks.” Exclusion by peers is a fact of life for the HFA child. They have different reactions to these rejections, ranging from anger to acceptance. Some come to believe that “my friends are out to get me," or that peers are just generally mean, in which case they are likely to react with aggression and hostility to mild slights by peers. Others may assume that these rejections are caused by an enduring, personal deficiency (e.g., "there’s something wrong with me") and are likely to withdraw from further peer interaction.

Socially competent kids on the spectrum, in contrast, tend to explain these rejections as temporary or in ways that recognize that a social situation can be improved by changing their own behavior (e.g., "I'll try to be nice to my friends next time"). Sometimes these kids recognize that the situation itself led to the rejection (e.g., all three kids wanted to ride bikes, but there were only two bikes, so one child was left out).

Moms and dads of these socially competent kids endorse interpretations of social events that encourage resilient, constructive attitudes. Rather than making a statement like, "That's a really mean kid!" …they may say something like, "Well, maybe he's having a bad day." They make constructive attributions like, "Sometimes children just want to play by themselves," rather than expressing a sentiment such as, “Those kids are not being very nice if they won't let you play with them."

These parents avoid negative statements like, "Maybe they don't like you," and offer instead suggestions like, "Maybe they don't want to play that particular game, but there might be something else they would enjoy." Such positive statements encourage these children to take an optimistic view of others and themselves as play partners. They reflect an upbeat, resilient attitude toward social setbacks and the belief that social situations can be improved with effort and positive behavior.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

4. Use a problem-solving approach. When problem-solving, moms and dads can help their son or daughter consider various solutions and perspectives. As parents know, there are often no easy answers to most of kid’s problems with peers. Therefore, it is helpful for these kids to learn how to think about relationships and weigh the consequences of their actions for themselves and others. Kids who are encouraged to think in terms of others' feelings and needs are more positive and prosocial with peers. Also, kids whose moms and dads talk with them more often about emotions are better liked by their peers.

5. Talk with your child about social relationships and values. Kids on the spectrum who have more frequent conversations with a parent about peer relationships are better liked by other kids in their classrooms and are rated by educators as more socially competent. As a part of normal, daily conversation, these parents and kids talk about the everyday events that happen in school, including things that happen with schoolmates. Often these interactions take place on the way home from school or at dinner. These talks are not lectures, but rather conversations enjoyed by both parent and youngster that (a) communicate to the youngster an interest in his/her well-being, and (b) serve as a basis for information exchange and genuine problem solving.


More resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 

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