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Q Our child has autism. Should we encourage him to play with other children? Is it better for him to play with other autistic children or with non-autistic children?
DR. ANTONIO HARDAN RESPONDS:
A This is a complex question. The overall approach should be individualized and decided ideally in consultation with your child's treatment team. It will depend on the child's level of functioning and his verbal and social abilities, as well the other children involved.
As a general rule, children with autism are encouraged to play with other children. It is best to start with a playdate with only one other child, in a controlled and familiar environment such as the home. Too many children around could be overwhelming and distracting. Parents should closely supervise the play, be on hand to facilitate social interaction if needed, and afterwards, review the activity with their child and provide feedback on his/her efforts.
You might also consider setting up a playdate between two children with autism and assess how they interact and if they get along. Again, that activity should be closely supervised by an adult, and you should discuss it beforehand with your child's treatment team. Remember that it takes a lot of practice and coaching for children with autism to be successful in their play activities, and parents should not be discouraged.