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playdate and sensory needs

Play Date Tips for Children With Sensory Needs

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recognizes play as one of the most fundamentally important occupations in a child’s life. Through play, children are able to make better sense of their world, learn how to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations, and interact and socialize with their peers appropriately. As adults, it is important to provide children the “just right challenge” when preparing for a playdate, especially when a child has sensory needs which could impact their participation. Check out these 3 strategies for ideas on how to prepare for an upcoming play date.

3 Strategies For Play Dates When A Child Has Sensory Challenges:

  1. Load up with heavy work activities before the play date, which are helpful in modulatingSensory Strategies for Playdates arousal, increasing attention, and improving self-regulation. These activities may include jumping on the trampoline, swinging on a swing, laying over an exercise ball, or bouncing on a hippity-hop ball. For children who are sensory seeking, it is especially important to give their body a safe and therapeutic way to release excess energy, especially before they are expected to socialize with peers in organized and cooperative play.
  2. Meet your child where he is by offering a play experience he does not feel stressed about engaging in. For many children with sensory needs, it can be stressful to have to worry about socializing with peers. Providing opportunities that can facilitate parallel play (independent play within proximity to other children), associative play (interacting socially, without adhering to structured rules or game play), or cooperative play (organized activity) may help to bridge the gap between the social demands of the day and their level of comfort.  Activities such as puzzles, water toys, Legos, blocks, and trains can all be used in transitioning between individual play and cooperative play, allowing your child the opportunity to explore without becoming too overwhelmed or overstimulated.
  3. Play dates can be a perfect opportunity to get your child interested in multi-sensory activities. Often, when they see a peer engage in an activity, they are more likely to want to try it themselves. Setting up the environment with various opportunities to engage in sensory play, such as rice bins, baby pools, Lite Brite’s, dried pasta, finger paint, or a make-your-own slime center may also appeal to the sensory seeking kids who love to explore and get their hands messy.

If your child has difficulty participating in structured play, occupational therapy can help. Both play and social participation are two main occupations that foster growth in children. Occupational therapists are trained in providing skilled intervention to encourage a child to explore and engage in play activities that result in successful interactions within the community[1].

Is it Bad Behavior or SPD?


NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process 2nd Edition. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, November/December 2008, Vol. 62, 625-683. doi:10.5014/ajot.62.6.625

Prepping for a Perfect Playdate: Elementary Age Edition

Parents of elementary school children have a number of questions about playdates.  For example, how long should a playdate be and how often should they occur? 

The answer, you ask? Well, it depends! The above questions are only the beginning of an important list of considerations when thinking about playdates in elementary school. First and foremost, you have to know your child. For example, how active is your child, what types of activities keep him engaged, how are his problem-solving skills? Does your child know when to ask for help? The answers to these questions can help parents plan a playdate that is appropriate for their child’s individual needs.

Why are playdates so important for elementary age kids?

While playdates in elementary school can require extra time and energy, playing with peers can be very beneficial to your young ones. Although school is a significant agent of socialization in a child’s life, play is often not part of most classroom learning. As stated in a previous blog about playdates for preschoolers, peer-to-peer interaction helps children develop their social and emotional skills. They learn social problem-solving, they practice communicating their thoughts, feelings, and ideas, and they have the chance to explore their creativity.

What to consider when prepping for a playdate:

It’s important to consider your child’s individual needs and preferences, as well as those of his playmates. Expectations are key! Clarifying everything from the start and end time, to what type of play is acceptable in your house can alleviate some common playdate frustrations. Be reassured that in your house, playdates carry your rules. This is not meant to suggest you shouldn’t expect some rule-breaking due to not knowing your house rules, however, kids are used to following different sets of expectations depending on the setting.

If your children are the type that requires more planned activities, then go ahead and plan, but be flexible! It’s good for children in elementary school to take some responsibility in planning their leisure time. One way to allow for this is to suggest a number of activities, and let the kids decide which ones to do and in which order to do them.

This leads me to my final note about playdates in elementary school. We know that as children mature and develop, they can be expected to take on more responsibilities. As the adults supervising playdates, we must remember to find the balance of giving our kids space, while also staying close enough to be available.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonDeerfieldLincolnwoodGlenviewLake BluffDes PlainesHinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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