Socializing can be difficult for children diagnosed with autism. There are so many components to having a conversation or initiating play with a peer. Most of us do not even recognize all the effort it takes to hold a reciprocal conversation with a friend. And like most of us, kids with autism can be very motivated by peers and want to play with others. These kids may need assistance and support in navigating those social situations and our therapists provide some tips below for any teacher, parent or caretaker.
School can be an especially challenging place for socializing. Eyas Landing therapists work to prepare kids for these situations. For kids at Eyas Landing, our goal is always to have them be in the least restrictive environment that can also provide them with the most beneficial support.
Kids that are in school classrooms with typically developing peers may require extra support to help navigate social situations. Our therapists suggest that the most beneficial outcomes in supporting the child are to be as least intrusive as possible in peer interactions. Think of yourself as a “fly on the wall” and to interfere or provide assistance only when appropriate and necessary.
When To Step In
In situations where it is necessary to interfere, providing the child with social scripts to handling the interaction can be helpful to the child. For example, if one child wants to play one game and another disagrees or wants to play something else, it is often helpful to lay the situation out in plain language for both kids. Communicate by saying “Well, he wants to play checkers, but she wants to play bingo, how can we settle this?”
Typically, this makes the problem situation very clear to the child and they can decide on who should be able to pick the game and how to be fair. Teaching fairness and taking turns is a big part is a big part of learning to socialize, especially in grade school age children. Playing board games are often a great way to help facilitate learning on how to compromise, alternate making choices, sharing, and turn taking. While the child may still need cues or reminders on whose turn it is or how to be fair with peers, being present with the child during these moments is a great way to teach.
Socializing at Lunch and Recess
Lunch and recess are two particularly challenging and extremely important social environments for kids. This is a time that is less structured and more so resembling free time. Lunch is a time to eat and socialize with peers. Kids with autism who may struggle with those social interactions may need extra support in finding a topic to talk about, attending to others while they speak, or reciprocating when someone else is speaking.
The other time of the day during school that has little to no structure is recess. Recess is the time during the day where kids can play whatever they want and get a break from being in the classroom. This is also a crucial time for kids to come up with play ideas, initiate play, invite others to play, and engage together in shared ideas. The “fly on the wall” method can also be beneficial during recess. Adults should not be a distraction for the child or the only option for a playmate. Kids should be interacting with same age peers during recess.
These unstructured times during the school day can be especially stressful and anxiety provoking for kids with autism. Being there in a therapeutic way to help support the child in navigating social situations can be extremely beneficial to their confidence in these settings and ability to be successful.