Posts Tagged ‘play dates’

Use Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences for special needs play date activities

May 5, 2012

Learning involves more than just numbers and words, especially for children on the autism spectrum. Harvard researcher Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory states that eight distinct types of intelligences can be developed to help students reach their potential. This is in contrast to traditional approaches that focus solely on logical-mathematical and linguistic/verbal intelligences, which may underestimate the intelligence of students with special needs.

For a well-rounded approach to learning through play dates that may incorporate hidden strengths of students, click here to read an article on


Play date activities for kids with autism

November 2, 2011

Here’s another of my articles from It seems lately I’ve been doing a lot on play dates for kids with autism. The other ones are more newsy, involving environmental causes, etc.

Anyway, this is just a sample list of some activities to do to improve social skills – reading, exercises, games, music, imaginary play, etc.

To read the article on, click here.

Play date activities for children with autism spectrum disorders

January 28, 2011

Participating in play dates can help children with autism gain invaluable social skills.  The best way for children on the autism spectrum to learn how to manage their emotions and make friends is to practice those skills over and over with their peers.

A sample list of play date activities designed to improve social-emotional, play, cognitive, and motor skills is below.  The description of ideas is just a guide.  The list of potential games, sports, and other activities is endless.  The list below includes activities that in some cases require a minimum level of education and communication.

Activities should be customized to the interests and needs of students.  A list of ten or so major activities can be given to kids who should have some leeway to take turns choosing activities.  In a two-hour play date, usually about six activities can be accomplished.

To read the rest of my article on, click here.


15 articles from 2010 every parent of a child with an autism spectrum disorder should read

January 15, 2011

One of the major educational and therapeutic trends in autism in 2010 was an increase in meaningful, developmental autism therapies that incorporate social, emotional and cognitive skills to enhance traditional behavioral methods.

On the research front, scientists increasingly recognized and acknowledged that autism is largely environmental and not solely genetic.

And while devastating tragedies occurred, out of those heartbreaks came greater awareness and safety measures that will ultimately save the lives of vulnerable children.‘s Mike Frandsen takes a look back at some of the articles from 2010 that reflected critical issues in the world of autism.

Mason Alert would help prevent wandering, drowning deaths of kids with autism

Mason Alert to be combined with Take Me Home program to prevent autism wandering

Dr. Stanley Greenspan dies, founded Floortime and developmental approaches to autism therapy

Teaching, coaching sports, playing with children with autism: rewarding, but also a whole lot of fun

Play dates for kids with autism can enhance social skills, emotional awareness, and learning

Using humor, puppets in play therapy can enhance social, communication skills for kids with autism

Understanding and managing emotions are important life and social skills for children with autism

Sports and exercise for children with autism can improve social and cognitive skills

Top 10 mistakes, lessons learned from therapy programs for children with autism spectrum disorders

Landrigan calls for more research into pesticides, toxic chemicals, environmental causes of autism

Autism advocate Lyn Redwood discusses mercury vaccine controversy, chelation, treatment and recovery

Interview with Dan Olmsted, Mark Blaxill: ‘Age of Autism-Mercury, Medicine, and a Manmade Epidemic’

Congress: CDC misled public about Washington, D.C. lead in water crisis, lead was toxic for some

Facilitated Communication (FC) enables non-verbal people on autism spectrum to communicate by typing

HHS, NIH and other federal agencies should hire more employees with autism and other disabilities

For the rest of the article on, click here.

Read books with children with autism during play dates

December 4, 2010

One of the best activities to do with children with autism during play dates is to read books, as long as it’s done in an engaging, interactive way.  At a recent play date I facilitated, I brought a stack of books from my collection – books that I thought would be most likely to be big hits.  Then I let the kids choose which ones they were going to read.  To my surprise, they chose “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss and “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, which were my favorite books when I was very young.  It turned out great.  To see the whole list of books that I brought (those about emotions, social skills, humor, etc.),  ones that didn’t make the cut, plus links to other articles about books for children with autism, click here for my article on

Understanding and managing emotions are important life and social skills for children with autism

August 10, 2010

Children with autism are often notoriously poor at identifying, understanding, expressing, and handling their emotions. Meltdowns and tantrums can be common, and the ability to recover from these outbursts can be elusive. Emotion coaching is therefore a crucial component of any autism therapy program.

Helping children with autism deal with feelings should be accomplished not only during play dates and social skills practice, but also during more traditional cognitive and academic behavioral teaching. In fact, an argument can be made that the ability to handle emotions is more important than the ability to excel academically.

Dr. Stanley Greenspan, who emphasized the importance of learning emotions and social skills for children with autism, discussed the need to teach those skills together with academics in “Engaging Autism.”

To read the rest of my article on, click here.

Play dates for kids with autism can enhance social skills, emotional awareness, and learning

April 20, 2010

Play dates are invaluable in helping children with autism learn the social skills that are so necessary to be happy and successful in life. Social skills, which come naturally to most typical children, are often severely delayed in kids on the autism spectrum.

Integrating communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal), emotional awareness, and sensory processing into play dates can make the cognitive work that autistic children do more efficient. Sports, exercise, and work on motor skills can also make learning more effective. Children can learn important life skills during play dates such as taking turns, sharing, and problem solving.

To see my full article at, click here.

Use Play Dates to Foster Social Skills in Children with Autism

August 22, 2009

The biggest disappointment I’ve had in working with children with autism is the fact that many of their parents are so hypocritical when it comes to play dates.

Play dates are structured play sessions between two or more children.  They are done because kids with autism have a very hard time learning the social skills that come naturally to most children.  Play dates are very beneficial because children learn skills such as taking turns, sharing, communicating both verbally and through body language, and playing sports and board games.  They learn spontaneous play, which in turn improves the ability to learn.  They learn how to think on the fly and practice imaginative play, which helps with kids who only think concretely and not abstractly.  They develop a sense of humor, which does the same thing.  In fact, spontaneous and imaginative play can help kids generalize skills across different people and environments (the inability to generalize is a huge problem in autism.  Kids may be able to learn something at a certain desk with a certain instructor, but may not be able to do the same thing elsewhere with someone else).  Play dates (along with sports, exercise, and other motor skill practice) can help make kids improve their cognitive learning.

Anyway, the problem is that many parents only want to have their children play with kids who are “higher functioning” than their own kids.  Yet they refuse to allow kids who they believe are “lower functioning” to play with their kids for fear that their kids might not learn as much or might pick up bad habits.  In short, the parents are “stuck up” about their kids.

Parents:  you are not making a major commitment for the future by trying out a play date.  Try it, and if you don’t think it’s a good fit you don’t have to continue for a long period of time, but be open-minded.  Sometimes I think you’re more autistic than your children.  You only want to do the same things over and over and refuse to try anything new.   When I see this attitude, it makes me so ready to move onto the next career, whatever that will be.

I’ve heard parents say, “Johnny doesn’t want (or need) friends.  He has his brother.”  Be careful of saying, “Johnny like this but he doesn’t like that.”  So you’ve decided at this young age what he likes and doesn’t like for the rest of his life?  Why don’t you want him to have play dates?  Do you want him all for yourself?  Is it codependency?  Is it that there are so many other more important things, that you want to get those done first?  Is it because you are afraid of failure, and a child should only do something if it is 100% successful, otherwise it’s not worth trying?  Is it because you’re lazy?  Are you afraid the child might cry?  Is it because you just want to hand over big checks to therapists and then let them handle everything so you can be done with it?  Is your child better than other kids?  Whatever it is, it’s not right.

I’ve even known of a case in which a parent didn’t want his child to play with a particular child who was perceived to be lower functioning, even though his child clearly wanted to play with this child and was very distraught about it.  Try explaining that to the child.

The level of hypocrisy is amazing.  I’ve seen parents almost cry because typical children don’t want to play with their kids.  Then when their children take a leap forward, they themselves refuse to have their children play with kids who may be at a slightly lower level than them in certain areas.

Here’s an example of how a child who may have slightly higher skills in certain areas can still benefit from playing with children who may have slightly lower skills.  Child A sees that Child B gets upset easily.  Child A can learn to comfort Child B and say, “I hope you feel better.”  Then Child A can learn empathy.  Child A can also learn leadership skills.  And how about having fun?  You focus on things that both of them can do well, and maybe even more of the activities that the lower functioning child can do well.

I don’t mean to be too negative.  I even once met a parent who was neither a hypocrite about play dates, nor held her kids back from having them.  The reason I write this is that I have facilitated many play dates – over 100 – and the vast majority have worked out great, and the few parts of play dates that haven’t worked out great still help prepare kids for life’s ups and downs.

Be open to trying new things and breaking out of the structure the way things currently are.  Otherwise, you’re just going to get the same results you’ve always gotten.  Reading a social story is nice.  Participating in a social story is even better.

Note – I know the above may sound harsh.  Most of the parents I’ve met do a good job of setting up play dates for their kids, and most of them do want to see their kids have fun. I know of at least one parent for whom all I did for a year for her child was facilitate play dates, and on top of that, she had an additional playgroup.  Very impressive.

Lessons Learned from Autism Therapy

August 22, 2009

In my experience working with children with autism (see, I’ve come up with several lessons learned based on observations I’ve made over the years.  I list ten of them here, focusing on the management of home therapeutic programs.  I write this with the understanding that it is a monumental task to raise kids with autism and I usually only work with them for a maximum of 3-hour shifts at a time.  In other words, it’s easy for me to say.  Maybe I’m like the sportsradio caller who sits on the sidelines but criticizes the players.  Still, when I see the same mistakes being made over and over, I feel a responsibility to mention them.

1.  Parents refusing to have their children do play dates with other children. Some parents only want their children to do play dates with higher functioning kids, which is a little hypocritical because they won’t have them do play dates with lower functioning kids.  Also, some parents say, “Johnny doesn’t want friends.  He already has his brother.”  Or they are afraid to take a risk that something will go wrong.  Sometimes, it seems they are more autistic than the kids themselves based on their unwillingness to take risks and try something new.

2.  There is a lack of coordination between schools and home programs. The responsibility lies with the school, the home program, and the parents to ensure that there is enough coordination.  Without that, each side won’t know what the other is doing.  I’ve seen situations where the school doesn’t believe what the child has done at home.  I told a teacher, “But his father says he can do this.”  And the teacher replied, “I don’t believe him.”  (Use videotape to prove it to them!)  I’ve even seen a lack of coordination between certain aspects of the home program.  You wouldn’t hire two journalists to write an article about the same person without sharing and comparing notes, even if they were writing about different aspects of the person, and it’s even more important that everyone is on the same page in working with kids with autism.

3.  Therapists are shuffled in and out and there is a lack of continuity. In some cases, by the time a child is 10, he has been to several different schools, had several different home programs, and had turnover within each program so he has worked with more than 50 teachers and therapists.  It is not good for children to get attached to therapists and then have them taken away from them, because it teaches children that people are dispensable and interchangeable.  It’s also not good for the children psychologically to have people constantly shuffled in and out and taken away from them because they may develop problems in the future related to that.

4.  Giving too much power to the head of a home program. I observed one situation in which the head of the program wouldn’t let the family go on vacation when they wanted because the timing wasn’t right.  The parents should be the bosses. The organizations providing therapy are working for the parents – not the other way around.

5.  Not holding the head of home programs accountable enough.  It is tempting for parents to say, “I’m busy enough already,” and hand over the reins to the head of a home program and give them complete power.  However, parents need to periodically check up on the status of the program to see how much progress is being made and to make sure they agree with the strategies and subject matter being covered.  (Dads:  some of you have graduate degrees from Ivy League universities.  That’s nice.  Now could you possibly consider making some suggestions about your children’s programs? – you can’t even make any suggestions or any input about your child’s program?  Let me get this straight – you’re intimidated by someone half your age who has a couple years experience with kids?  You’d rather just hand over the money and not even know what is going on?)

6.  Making the child the King of the Household. A child has a disability, so parents feel sorry for him, letting him get away with bad behavior, and excusing him from acting appropriately.  Congratulations.  You are on your way to creating a monster who becomes the King of the Household.  You might as well start fitting the crown and the throne now.  On the bright side, everyone knows who rules the place.

7.  Giving up. It’s true that the early developmental years are the best for teaching children, but kids, and adults for that matter, can continue to learn throughout life.  Occasionally, parents focus so much on reducing behaviors and ensuring that kids are happy that they don’t push the kids to learn enough.  How many adults are thankful now that their parents pushed them to learn when they were younger instead of just giving into their gratifications at the time?  You wouldn’t allow your neurotypical son to say, “No! I don’t want to do math!” and get away with it, would you?

8.  Talking about the child in front of him or her. If you’re going to do this, make it positive.  Too often, parents (or teachers, therapists, or others) talk about a child in front of him as if he is not there.  “Johnny has a lot of problems learning math, and I’m afraid he will never be able to catch up.  He’s better at reading, but at math he’s hopeless.”  What if a child hears some variation of that once a week for ten years?  Also, many kids with autism have very keen hearing, so they may be taking in everything that you are saying.  We already understand that a lot of kids understand more than it appears.  Don’t have meetings about the child in front of him either because then he will get the impression that there is something wrong with him that has to be fixed.

9.  Believing your doctor is infallible. It can be dangerous to just listen to doctors without doing your own research.  The internet should be a useful tool for you to find up to date information.  Check out forums on specific topics written by parents who pool their experience rather than blindly trusting someone who sees your kid an hour and a half per year.  But instead of finding things out for themselves, as crazy as it sounds, I believe that some parents would rather do something that is accepted by the medical community that will not help their kids, rather than do something that may not necessarily be accepted that may help their kids. Author Lynn Hamilton put it this way:  “Stop seeing the doctor as the ultimate authority and to start viewing him or her as a member of their board of advisors…Ultimately, we are the ones who make the final decisions on what is best for our children.”

10.  Not putting enough attention into Emotion Coaching.  I’ve seen a few situations in which enough attention was paid to handling emotions, but the subject usually gets lost in the shuffle, which is strange because kids with autism usually are notoriously bad at identifying, understanding, and regulating emotions.  Kids should understand that it is normal to feel upset and that there are strategies they can use to calm down.  They need to understand the concept of empathy, or theory of mind.  The author and psychiatrist John Gottman says that emotional intelligence is a predictor of a child’s success later in life.  We’ve all met highly intelligent people who cannot deal successfully with other people.  I recommend Gottman’s book, “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.”  Connected to this idea is the need to teach kids to say “please” and “thank you,” rather than ignore manners because other things are “more important.”  Otherwise, see #6 above.

11.  Parents crossing boundaries and getting too close to therapists and vice-versa.

I may sound critical and negative to some, but I’ve been fortunate to see most parents do an amazing job with their kids with autism.  I’m just pointing out patterns that I’ve seen many times that it would be nice not to repeat.  As I say on my website,, I don’t have my own children but sometimes you can benefit from hearing something from an observer.  Coaches are usually not as good as the actual players.  Do you think New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick was as good as any of the 50 football players he coaches?  It doesn’t mean he can’t coach them.  As for me, I know I have the potential to be a great father, but I won’t take anything for granted and I will be the first one in a parenting course because I don’t think you can ever learn too much.