12 Oct Embrace the Bunny! Peer Play and Friendships for Children with Autism Through Affinity Based Play
My daughter has an affinity for bunnies. No one understands the importance of honouring a child’s affinity better then the Friend 2 Friend Team. At Friend 2 Friend Play Centre for children with autism and their peers affinities are “a spontaneous or natural liking, intense interest, or unique knowledge of something”.
I first met the Friend 2 Friend Team in the fall of 2012. At that time my daughter was extremely attached to her stuffed bunny. I worried that once in school my daughter would have to leave her bunny at home, her peers would think it was babyish, and the anxiety, emotional trauma, and inevitable meltdowns my daughter would suffer because of this. Therefore, I thought it best to try to extinguish bunny.
While I thought that extinguishing her affinity would help my daughter develop other interests and thereby broaden her ability to connect socially with her peers, the Friend 2 Friend Play Centre programs taught me to use my daughter’s affinity as a tool to scaffold social connections with peers. By allowing my daughter to celebrate her affinity I was providing a safe and secure place from which to build play situations that would help her interact with others in a way that was meaningful to her.
Peer play is such an ordinary and natural part of everyday life for a child, unless that child is on the autism spectrum. Children with autism play may be unconventional, even unrecognizable and undervalued in the neurotypical world. Heathers ideas for developing play themes using a child’s affinity as a two-way door, providing a way for peers to engage in the affinity based play of the child with autism, while at the same time, providing the child with autism peer play that broadens their world of play and imagination.
I have seen the power of play themes at work in my own daughterʼs life. I have learned to “embrace the bunny”; not just tolerate it or see it as an indulgence. Through affinity based play themes my daughterʼs peers have accepted bunny. Bunny has been normalized, loved and celebrated. In turn my daughter feels accepted and understood. Her anxiety is reduced and her mind is in a better state to learn.
In the words of my daughter, “A small little bunny has a lot of power in her, you know”.
Parent and Bunny Wrangler