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Autism: Teaching Parents how to Prompt Communication & Socialization
Autism: Teaching Parents How to Prompt Communication & Socialization

Section 13
Parents' Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

CEU Question 13 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Autism
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In the last section, we discussed 6 Parts to Making Conversation.  These included starting a conversation, food talk, commenting, learning to be appropriate, starting conversations appropriately and making empathetic responses.

Patrick, age 29, had a daughter, Shelby, age 6, who had autism.  Patrick stated, "Shelby’s school called me last week and told me that she’s having a really hard time socializing.  Shelby rarely interacts with the other children, and instead spends most of her time perched on top of the monkey bars staring into space.  Shelby’s teachers also told me that she doesn’t seem the least bit interested in group lessons.  What do I do?  Shelby sometimes has difficulties communicating, and of course the other kids probably won’t know what to do." 

What might you have said to Patrick in a similar situation? 

Making Friends and Play Dates - 4 Parts
I stated, "Well, not many children—with or without special needs—can make friends unless they have plenty of opportunities to interact with other children.  I have found that many children have regular play dates, and in order to socialize with them, it can be helpful for Shelby to do the same.  As hard as it can be to set up and see a play date through, it can be constructive if Shelby is going to make and maintain friends at school.  I have found that there are 4 Parts to Making Friends and Play Dates.  These involve finding someone with potential, the initial phone call, starting short and planning a longer play date." 

As you read, you may want to compare these methods to your own.

♦ Making Friends Part 1 - Finding Someone with Potential
Patrick asked, "How do I go about picking children for Shelby to have play dates with?  I don’t know any of the kids in her class." 

I stated, "First of all, let’s discuss finding someone with potential.  With many kids, potential play dates can be identified simply by asking who they want to play with or by watching who they play with at school.  Shelby, however, might be less forthcoming—she may not instinctively be thinking about anyone as a potential play date.  When you set up Shelby’s first play dates, you may need to ask her teacher or aide to recommend children who get along well with her at school.  

"You can then call the parent of one of those other children and say, for example, ‘Mrs. Brown said that Shelby seems to enjoy playing with your son, TJ.  I wondered if TJ might be free on Friday to get ice cream after school.’  You might even ask a teacher if he or she could suggest children who they think would be good role models or who come from families familiar with autism and who are therefore used to being around similar children.  Since teachers and aides are around the students all day long, they’re great resources for potential play dates." 

Would you agree that teachers can be helpful sources regarding whom a child with autism might play well with?

♦ Making Friends Part 2 - The Initial Phone Call
I found it helpful to further state, "Second, let’s discuss the initial phone call.  Many children today have busy schedules, so you might want to make sure that you call the other parents well in advance of the desired play date.  If you’ve planned a great activity, you might want to mention that when you make the invitation, so the other child knows he’s got something to look forward to and will be eager to come over.  After you’ve made that first phone call, you might want to have Shelby call the other child, either to invite the child personally or just as a reminder before the play date. 

"This will give Shelby an opportunity to learn the little social things you say when inviting someone over.  Have Shelby practice first, with you or a relative playing the part of the playmate on the phone, while you prompt her.  This will help Shelby know what to say during the real thing.  Stay nearby during the real phone call—if Shelby gets stuck, you can take over.  Remember that phone conversations have no visual cues, so they can be quite difficult for children, and even some adults.  If the phone call is too overwhelming for Shelby, you may need to start out small, like just having her say, ‘See you tomorrow,’ or something simple." 

Would you agree that it can be helpful to encourage autistic children to try making simple, supervised phone calls to develop their social skills?

♦ Making Friends Part 3 - Starting Short
Patrick stated, "Considering how anti-social Shelby seems to be at school, what guarantees that she will be any more social during a play date?  She might wander off and leave her playmate alone." 

I stated, "Third, in addition to finding someone with potential and the initial phone call, let’s discuss starting short.  Other clients of mine who have children with autism have related similar experiences to me.  These parents tell me that when play dates are kept shorter at the beginning, they’re much more likely to be successful all the way through.  What works best in these parents’ experiences is to plan a very short, structured activity right after school.  For example, you might take Shelby and her playmate out to the local ice cream parlor for an ice cream cone after school and then take the playmate right home.  Fast food restaurants and local parks can work out just as well. 

"If Shelby tends to have time-absorbing solitary pursuits, like playing on the computer or watching television, or even if she spends hours swinging alone at the park, it’s especially important to have play dates where these activities aren’t available.  Then you won’t have to worry so much about Shelby abandoning her playmate or your having to constantly redirect her.  The important thing to remember is that even if the play date is going well, keep it short at the beginning.  You will want to make sure the playmate wants to come back for more.  If the two of them are begging for more time together, then you know it’s been a success, and that’s the time to end.  If you drag it on, there could be a problem.  Once you can count on a successful hour or so, you can try lengthening it."

♦ Making Friends Part 4 - Planning a Longer Play Date
Patrick asked, "What’s the difference between a short play date and a longer one?" 

I continued to state, "Fourth, once Shelby is ready to have a longer play date, you might want to plan some fun activities ahead of time.  While you’re choosing the activities, make sure they’re equally appealing to both children.  Shelby may be great at Monopoly and love to play, but if Monopoly bores the playmate, he or she won’t want to come back.  Similarly, if you try to entertain the guest with something Shelby dislikes, you’ll wind up with her wandering off again. 

"You and Shelby can make a list of her favorite activities together and then you can have her try calling a friend on the phone and ask which ones the friend also likes—that way, you’ll end up with activities you know both kids will enjoy and won’t have to deal with either of them saying, ‘Nah, I don’t’ want to do that,’ after you’ve set something up.  You can prime Shelby on these activities the night or afternoon before the play date, and that way you can ensure some successes.  In fact, sometimes the extra priming can allow Shelby to reach a level of competence with the activity that then allows her to take a leadership role when she and her playmate are together." 

Would you agree that planning activities ahead of time can help make play dates successful for children with autism?  Do you have a Patrick with an autistic child who has difficulty socializing?  Might he or she benefit from hearing this section?

In this section, we discussed 4 Parts to Making Friends and Play Dates.  This included finding someone with potential, the initial phone call, starting short and planning a longer play date

In the next section, we will discuss 5 Parts to Playing with Others.  This will include play initiation and joining in, taking turns, play termination, winning and losing and sports.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Kasari, C., Gulsrud, A., Paparella, T., Hellemann, G., & Berry, K. (2015). Randomized comparative efficacy study of parent-mediated interventions for toddlers with autism. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 83(3), 554–563.

Rispoli, K. M., Mathes, N. E., & Malcolm, A. L. (2019). Characterizing the parent role in school-based interventions for autism: A systematic literature review. School Psychology, 34(4), 444–457. 

Yi, H., Siu, Q. K. Y., Ngan, O. M. Y., & Chan, D. F. Y. (2020). Parents’ experiences of screening, diagnosis, and intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 90(3), 297–311.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 13
What are 4 Parts to Making Friends and Play Dates? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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