What is the relationship of autistic children to each other during play

Watching three autistic children build together, you can jump over some stereotypes about such young people. At first glance, they don’t seem to be playing. They didn’t meet eye to eye, nor did they talk much. They seem to be playing together. And they are easily disappointed.

However, the three are, in fact, playing well. They communicate, though not through repeated verbal dialogue. Each strictly follows the other’s hand movements in the construction process, and these hand actions are like taking turns in a conversation. The scattering of songs marks togetherness. One child hummed the famous “Halleluiah” section of “The Messiah,” while the other followed by humming, the falsetto, the less well-known part of the oratorio. A child rolls over the dead and declares as imitating Fortnite, “I am the One.” Another child does something with his hands. “Wow,” his friend exclaimed.

This kind of close observation emphasizes how autistic children are, in fact, related to each other, but not in neurotypical language or in ways that neurotypical people immediately recognize. It can be difficult for people unfamiliar with children with autism to understand what is going on. This can easily lead to erroneous conclusions, such as the misconception that autistic children dislike social relationships and prefer to play alone. Such misunderstanding can put autistic children at risk because the biggest threat to their quality of life is loneliness and lack of friendships. Game-based social learning can help them avoid these dangers.

Parallel play in autistic children is a route of social play, not the opposite of it.

Differences in autistic children

Autistic children value playing with their peers and many are able to play with each other. However, they can communicate more visually and using their hands, than in a more verbal way with other children. They may need different acceleration strategies and more support than their neurotypical counterparts.

The benefit of carefully watching how autistic children play is that it helps others create environments that support the way they actually play, rather than spending time and effort teaching them. how to play in neurotypical ways.

Within parallel play

Some autistic children like to play together. In general, the neurotypical world does not regard this type of game as a “social” game, but as an isolated, solo activity. But in our observations, we find that parallel play can be very social. For example, we watched three kids build their respective Lego boards. One built a house, another built a forest, and the third built a TV set. We realized that the third child was watching TV inside the house in the woods. This experience demonstrates the need to love parallel play and allow it to continue until the connection windows occur, as they inevitably do. If we ask ourselves how we support and strengthen these opportunities for connection, we will find that parallel play in autistic children is a route of social play, not opposed to it.

Photo provided by the author.

Understanding this can help teachers support the social dynamics of autistic children and collaborate on those dynamics to support togetherness. In one game, we gave each child a Lego board and suggested they make a bridge and they should meet in the middle. In another game, the children build a tower. Each child has bricks of a particular color, but the game stipulates that they must not place a brick of one color on top of a brick of the same color. As a result, children enjoy open play, which gives them agency. The color rule supports interaction in their parallel play. Simple games like these can be repeated with small variations to create learning environments that are predictable, but not exhausting, to support autistic children in developing their unique abilities. way of interaction through hands-on experience.

Helping to express frustration

Accepting that autistic children are able and able to communicate – even in atypical ways that can avoid direct language – can help us support them when they are frustrated. In our work, we try to encourage children to tell stories of their frustrations, knowing that verbal explanations may not come quickly. For example, in a play session involving a child with two young children, the older and more experienced child is disappointed with the slowness of the others. To explain, he made a train ride with three kids on stage, talking that he felt like he was waiting for a train, which was frustrating. By making sure she had a way to express her feelings in a practical way, we made it easier for her to manage her emotions and be patient.

Try to understand the social strategies the child uses to play with others. Create environments where such strategies are easy for the child to use.

Suggestions for parents and teachers

We offer three suggestions for those who want to support children on the spectrum to ensure they have access to play-based social learning. First, try to understand the social strategies the child uses to play with others. Create environments where such strategies are easy for the child to use.

Second, don’t worry if one child seems to play the same as the others. At some point, as in the examples mentioned, a window between two identical players will open. See parallel play as a route to social play.

Third, always keep in mind that children are capable. Even if someone is silent, says “um,” or repeats a sentence, it all makes sense. Think carefully about what the children are doing because their actions provide a window into the way they interpret the situation. For example, if a child taps, there is something behind that. Etiquette is communication.

We think of play as a way to learn – and not just for kids. It is also a way for adults to learn about children. Just as we want children to learn from the play situation, so do adults. Investigate the same way you want children to be investigated. Try to adjust the environment to fit how the child feels that day-no day is the same as another and you never know in advance how a child will feel.

We have a resource tool kit for playing with kids on the spectrum. You can see it HERE.

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