Alone on the Playground?

There are so many social opportunities available to your child on the playground.

Autism affects social skills. So whether it’s that your child is not picking up on non-verbal cues, or that he doesn’t know how to appropriately interact with others, these difficulties can directly affect his friendships.

It can be challenging to work on social skills with your child one-on-one, without being able to practice learned skills with other children. The playground is the perfect setting to teach him important strategies to assist with his social development.

Parents often think that it is a therapist’s job to work on these skills, but there are so many activities we can do to assist kids with communication, interactions, and play-skills without actually having to step foot in a therapy setting. It will take some teamwork and collaboration with the classroom teacher, so be sure to share this post with others on your team.

First, teach your child how to initiate play with his peers. Children often say things under their breath and other kids may not hear them. For example, when playing a game of chase, a child with autism may quickly say, “Chase me,” as he is running right by his classmate. If that classmate didn’t actually hear him, the other child may think he was being ignored. We need to catch these opportunities instead of letting them pass us by. The Autism Educates Social Skills Workbook covers some of these strategies to help your child with many different play-skills for different social situations.

Teach your child to say the other person’s name by encouraging him to tap his friend on the shoulder AND say his name. Once he has his friend’s attention, he can then ask, “Do you want to play chase?” He should then wait for his friend’s response. If his friend says, “no,” your child can find another friend to play with. He can ask his friend, “Oh, what do you want to play?”

Encourage your child to pick up on cues if someone does not want to play with him. What does that even look like? What should your child do if someone doesn’t want to play? What are the non-verbal signals that other kids display to indicate that they are not interested in playing? Map out these skills for your child, because the social cues are not as obvious for him.

The best way to figure out how kids show each other that they don’t want to play is for you to sit back and observe them on the playground. Create a visual list of these non-verbal cues and review them with your child. It’s natural for kids to not want to play with each other sometimes, and it’s extremely important to teach these cues and coping mechanisms to your child.

Teach turn-taking skills. A playground is such a natural setting to teach this skill. Whether it’s a game of chase, waiting for his turn on the slide, or throwing a ball, taking turns is an essential social skill. The best way to practice turn-taking is to model it. Don’t presume that your child understands how to take turns. Even if you practice turn-taking at home, he may not generalize (demonstrate the skill across different environments) this skill to the playground at school.

You can even create a story using pictures and words outlining how to take turns on the playground.

Practicing social skills on the playground is going to set your child up for success.

What are your child’s biggest challenges on the playground? Please share below.



The Social Skills Workbook for Children and Teens with Autism

Does your child have challenges with conversations, making friends, and understanding social rules?

  • Tai
    Posted at 08:42h, 17 September Reply

    Hi there, the biggest challenge we are having to deal with all the time is our son always rushing or pushing in to be 1st all the time. How can we manage this better instead of telling him to be patient etc.

  • Shelley Meyers
    Posted at 10:12h, 17 September Reply

    Trying to get my son to play with someone new. He always plays with this one particular boy (one and only friend-a new friend he made last year) and Im trying to encourage him to try to play with other kids and try to make new friends. He doesn’t want to or is scared/afraid/uncomfortable I feel.

    • Shelley Meyers
      Posted at 10:13h, 17 September Reply

      He is age 10-grade 5.

  • Nancy N
    Posted at 01:37h, 22 October Reply

    My son is in grade 4 and he has a diagnosis of high functioning ASD. His biggest problem right now is he spends every single recess in the same way. He goes outside and stands by the swings waiting for one of them to become available. Sometimes this takes 20 minutes of his 30 minute lunch recess break. Sometimes he never gets a swing before the bell. When he does get one, he swings alone until recess is over. He has tried approaching many kids and asking to play, but last year he gave up on trying after countless rejections. He is not unhappy but he sure isn’t learning anything about social skills! The school doesn’t provide any support during recess breaks and I don’t know what to do.

    • Jennifer Lingle
      Posted at 16:57h, 29 October Reply

      Hi Nancy. I am sure this is so frustrating. Can you make some visual tools explaining how to request a turn on the swing? You can write a visual story using pictures and words. I would review this story with him before school, make copies for the teacher, and even practice the story on the weekends at the park.

  • Elizabeth Rodriguez
    Posted at 09:05h, 03 August Reply

    One thing I noticed with my kid, was that some times learning the skill and actually applying the skill took some time. Patience and repetition and consistency was always a key component. As a mom, I often felt like I was failing because he didn’t give me any sign that he understood the concept of asking another kid to play, or how to share or how to take turns. However, I quickly learned they are listening, they may not show it but they are listening and one day he will do it and you’ll feel so accomplished (after feeling frustrated many times again and again and again). So to all the mothers out there that are feeling like it doesn’t work, it really does work, it just takes time, patience, repetition and lots of consistency.

    • Jennifer Lingle
      Posted at 20:20h, 09 August Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience with us Elizabeth.

  • Yolanda
    Posted at 06:38h, 20 August Reply

    Re: Swing time, my children’s school has novel approach. They have the child not on swing standing in front of child on swing–there is a line they stand behind that’s out of range–and count 25 swings. Then it’s the next child’s turn. Therefore they are all self-managers. Hope this helps.

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