Play groups and the socialization of the autistic child
Playing is the most important “job” of any child, since it stimulates their cognitive, social, motor and emotional systems. The children of the autistic spectrum exhibit poor play behavior and important deficits in social learning and imitation. This difficulty is evident from a very early age and parents realize their child’s difficulty once the child enters the broader family environment. Social interaction uses abilities that are not inherently present in the autistic spectrum and need to be taught daily.
The play can provide significant help since it improves many “difficult” areas of the child through an amusing process. The social abilities support program is important in order for the children of the autistic spectrum to be able to participate in the broader social environment. The playgroup is divided into subgroups depending on the age and the abilities of the children. The activities are divided into units depending on the goals that need to be achieved and the play is developed gradually
Through play, the children learn:
• The correct use of games and toys. The child discovers interesting ways to use them in a more functional way.
• To develop cooperation and reciprocity.
• To develop social and communication abilities.
• To use body language.
• To be visually, kinetically and sensory adjusted.
• To imitate their peers in the activities.
• To play symbolically, using their imagination.
• To follow rules regarding turn-taking, time and goal.
• To solve problems.
• To express their feelings.
• To manage their anger, aggressiveness, denial and enthusiasm.
• To understand restrictions and limits.
• To recognize themselves as part of the group.
The siblings of the autistic children may prove themselves very helpful in this process. Their involvement renders social integration easier and amusing. The normally and typically developed children function automatically as a role model for the children with disabilities, while the whole process is very amusing to them as well. The trained therapists help the normally developed children to learn how to guide the children with disabilities, by challenging them to the game and learn to draw satisfaction from it. Furthermore, their siblings learn to accept the right to be different and understand that they are not the only ones who have a “different” brother or sister. They learn to communicate and to interact with their siblings in a positive way, to understand their siblings’ behavior and to manage their stress.