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Building Social Skills During Summer

School is out! Let summer break be a great opportunity to continue your child’s learning and growth.

While summer can bring parents a welcome relief from making lunches and school drop-off and pick-up, it also offers time for kids to build valuable skills. Social skills programs are offered in several cities by different service providers and can offer a structured, play-based environment for children to build essential social, communication, cognitive, and sensory skills. Kids have fun and make friends as they learn while maintaining a helpful routine for themselves and their parents.

Many skill-boosting summer programs take place in group settings that are similar to the school environment, while still providing one-to-one support. These specialized programs promote collaboration and inclusion of peers and some welcome siblings, too.

Make Friends

Social skills programs provide activities that encourage and reward the building of social relationships rather than individual play. Children are grouped with other kids of the same age group and skill level, enabling them to share in age-appropriate games, activities, and communication. Groups are led by highly-trained staff, known as behavior technicians (BTs), who are overseen by behavior analysts. BTs encourage kids to get out of their comfort zone and try new things.

Stay Mentally and Physically Active

School breaks can impact children academically. The “summer slide” as it is called, refers to a loss of learning that students experience during the summer months. Social skills programs can help children stay mentally and physically active. While promoting positive behaviors and peer interaction, physical activity is suggested to improve self-esteem and general levels of happiness.

Improve Motor Skills

Engaging in physical play and teamwork exercises can also support overall motor skills, which support many everyday activities. This can help children feel more confident and capable.

Behavior Management

By consistently promoting positive behaviors and language, a child can learn what they can do rather than what they cannot do. Social skills programs offer valuable learning opportunities for kids to communicate their needs and engage in behaviors that help them in daily activities and in different environments.

Click here for other summer-themed blogs to support your family this season.


Creating Successful Play Dates

For a child, afternoon and weekend hours can be an ideal time for a little adventure or bonding with a friend. Play dates have become a regular practice for most parents who want to make the most of their child’s free time.  These coordinated get-togethers can also be a great way to help your child practice social skills, play skills, and communication skills with peers in a safe and structured setting. Preparing for a play date and having it go as planned can be a challenge for many families with a child who has special needs. Here are some tips for creating a successful play date.

  • Be thoughtful about the invitation. Choose a child who is close to your child’s age and displays age appropriate communication, social, and play skills. The peer should be able to play cooperatively and be flexible. It can be helpful if the child enjoys giving lots of help and suggestions to friends. Your child’s school, neighbors, or members of your religious congregation may be able to connect you with peers.
  • Plan the activities ahead of time. Choose activities which both children will enjoy. Some great options are activities that are structured, organized and require some level of cooperation. Planning this way can help make the time fun and special for all.
  • Pre-teach the activities to your child. Prepare your child for the play date by practicing the planned activities in advance. Try role playing and pretend to be the other child.
  • Consider what you want your child to learn during play dates. Play in and of itself is valuable but it is also an opportunity to learn new skills. Having clear goals will increase the likelihood that specific skills can be practiced during play dates. Have two or three specific goals (e.g. taking turns, asking questions, responding to questions, changing play activities appropriately), and consider taking notes on how your child did on each goal.
  • Keep it short. You may want to stick to 30 minutes for first few play dates. The 30 minutes can be further broken down into several 10-15 minute activities. Make sure transitions between activities are short and smooth.
  • Facilitate the play and provide reinforcement. Encourage cooperative play and guide the children to interact with each other. Provide frequent treats and praise as reinforcement for positive interactions.
  • Suggested activities. Consider activities where the children need to work together, problem solve, and share the same materials. Treasure hunts are great activities – hide toys and treats around the house and give the children a map to the treasures. Art projects are also fun with friends – make a collage, paint a poster or mural. Yard games to try are Freeze Tag, Hide and Seek, Red light Green Light.

For more helpful tips, check out our other blogs here.

Creating Successful Play Dates for Kids with Autism

Play dates are a great way to help your child practice social skills, play skills, and communication skills with peers in a safe and structured setting. Preparing for a play date and having it go as planned can be difficult for many families with a child with autism. Here are some tips for a successful play date.

Thoughtfully select peer
Choose a child who is close to your child’s age and displays age appropriate communication, social, and play skills. The peer should be able to play cooperatively and be flexible. It helps to have a peer who enjoys giving lots of help and suggestions to their friends. Your child’s school, neighbors, or members of your religious congregation may be able to connect you a good match.

Plan the activities head of time
Choose activities which both children will enjoy. They should be structured, organized and should require some level of cooperation. Make the play date fun and special.

Pre-teach the activities to your child
Prepare your child for the play date by practicing the planned activities in advance. Try role playing with your child, taking the role of their peer.

Know what you want your child to learn during play dates
Having clear goals will increase the likelihood that specific skills will be learned during play dates. Rather than simply hoping that something is learned, you can set an intention. Have two or three specific goals (e.g. taking turns, asking questions, responding to questions, changing play activities appropriately), and take notes on how your child did on each goal.

Keep it short
You may want to stick to 30 minutes for first few play dates. The 30 minutes can be further broken down into several 10-15 minute activities. Make sure transitions between activities are short and smooth.

Facilitate the play and provide reinforcement
Encourage cooperative play and guide the children to interact with each other. Provide frequent treats and praise as reinforcement for positive interactions.

Consider activities where the children need to work together, problem solve, and share the same materials. Treasure hunts are great activities – hide toys and treats around the house and give the children a map to the treasures. Art projects are also fun with friends – make a collage, paint a poster or mural. Yard games to try are Freeze Tag, Hide and Seek, Red light Green Light. Have fun!