Facilitated Play Dates and Relationship Building Groups

small groupResearch has shown that one’s quality of life is significantly influenced by the quality of one’s relationships. As the child ages, peer friendships take on more and more importance. Unfortunately, for many children, the skills and capacities that serve as the building blocks for successful friendships do not occur naturally. Some of these include the following: flexibility, compromise, social problem solving, ability to predict how one’s actions will affect others, effortless engagement, processing the language and movement of others, reading non verbal cues, getting past egocentricity.

When the caregivers and I feel the children can benefit, I pair compatible children from my practice for play dates (ages 3+). In almost all cases, I have worked individually and have a relationship with both children. I feel this is important so that I can truly consider each of their needs. Sometimes, the family may bring a friend or relative of the child to be the play partner of the patient (this requires the parent/guardian approval of the other child). I have had a special interest in play facilitation for many years and I have presented to groups of parents and professionals on the topic. I find it takes a great deal of skill and sophistication to be effective. While I advocate that parents be actively involved in all aspects of treatment, I find that facilitating play dates can be emotionally challenging for many parents. Professional help is often needed.

I also form groups of 3-5 children (ages 5+) that meet weekly. The groups are generally ongoing (not time limited) as long as the participants are benefitting. I currently have one group of boys that have been meeting for over three years together. I have found that for children with social difficulties to work on changing the often neurobiologically-based social challenges they have, they need to care a lot about the others their behavior affects. Longer term groups enable true relationships (caring, empathy, etc.) to form. Groups generally have three components: 1) Participant sharing 2) Group Activity 3) Processing and Goodbyes.

In both the play dates and groups, we have the opportunity to work on each child’s challenges in the context of a fun, warm, safe and inviting environment that becomes quite meaningful to the participants. Children with social challenges usually have a history of “failure” in the social realm. In addition to developing specific skills, the play dates and groups that I structure in my office are meant to help the child “heal” from these negative experiences.
Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Non-Verbal Learning Disability, Sensory Processing Disorder, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder.

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