At school this week during lunch break Jason approached an older boy. Attempting to initiate play with the boy, Jason asks, “Would you like to hear a song?” The older boy answers, “Yes”. Jason proceeded to sing his song. The older boy tells him to stop. However, Jason has the kind of mind that autism. Therefore, once he has started a song – he must finish the song. And Jason keeps singing. The older boy says, “If you don’t stop I will hit you”. Jason is completely caught off guard (he considered the social interaction to be a very positive one), and runs away. The older boy chases him. Jason, terrified, screams at the top of his lungs and continues to run.
“I screamed so loud I lost my voice”, Jason says to the playground teacher when asking for help. The playground teacher answers, “I told you not to sing that song”.
Luckily, Jason attends the Integrated Play Groups® program at the Friend 2 Friend Play Centre with Cayleigh, one of his classmates and an expert player. Cayleigh hears Jason screaming from across the playground and comes to his aid. She locates Jason, helps him to feel better, and takes him to the office where he can call his mother.
However, in recent years, more emphasis has been placed on behavioural interventions and teaching individuals with autism ‘social skills’. But at Friend 2 Friend we have always known that peer play and friendships are a necessity for children with autism. Therefore, we have made friendships the focus of our programs and services for more than 15 years. Our programs concentrate on teaching peers how to understand, accept, empathize and play with their peers on the autism continuum. We work to develop empathy to change the minds, attitudes and skills of the typically developing peers as a means of intervention.
Individuals with autism have unique social and communication needs. This makes the development of the peer play and friendships between children with autism and peers a necessity not a luxury. While peer play and friendships are important for social and emotional growth, friendships are important to children’s health and safety as well.
“Peers are a necessity not a luxury in human development” W.W. Hartup
Want to learn more? Autism Demystification® Online Course