Inviting your child’s friend with ASD round to play

April 1, 2018 Published by

We have come on leaps and bounds as a society in our awareness of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and what it means to be inclusive.

We still have a way to go however in making play inclusive to all, and a lack of understanding of children with ASD can sometimes lead to them being excluded from parties and playdates which can leave children feeling isolated and parents upset and frustrated.

Social situations can be challenging for children with ASD – different noises and smells, and unpredictability can be overwhelming for them. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be invited – far from it!

All children deserve to be invited to parties and playdates and inclusion starts best at home. So here we have compiled some advice and tips for how you can host your child’s friend with ASD for a successful playdate.

Some common concerns 

  • If you don’t have much experience with ASD, it can be difficult to understand a child’s needs as the way they express themselves might be different from what you are used to.
  • Some children with ASD will need to have time out to themselves when things get too overwhelming for them. For example, you might see them sat away from the group with their headphones on. The assumption would be that they’re bored or don’t want to be there, when in fact they might just need some time to decompress.
  • You might also worry that you won’t be able to handle the child’s needs, or that you won’t know what to do if they have a problem. Here are some tips to give you the confidence to host a child with ASD.

 Tips for your play date


Talk to the parents

  • Who knows your child – their interests, allergies, food preferences – better than you? Every child with ASD will have different needs, so the best thing you can do is ask their parents what you should know before they come over, and be open to what they have to say.
  • It may be a gradual thing, and it will help to make friends with the parents – it can also be very lonely being the parent of a child with ASD. And remember that parents of children with special needs are used to answering questions!

Find out what interests your child’s friend

  • Ask the parents or your child to find out what the child likes to do, and what they are particularly good at. One mum we spoke to suggests taking the children somewhere, “where they both know where they are, are equals, and where their relationship is dependent on their ability to run and scream!”.
  • Find something that both children can join in with and enjoy – what your child wants to do is equally important.
  • Open-ended toys and games where there is no pressure to win, and no right or wrong answers, are a good way to go as they are ‘just for fun’. Toys that encourage storytelling or imaginative play are all great for this. Construction toys and crafts or sensory type activities also offer flexible and creative play.


Be mindful of sensory sensitivities and eating habits

  • Children with ASD can be sensitive to noises, smells, and textures. As we have mentioned in the tip above, the best way to know about this is to talk to the child’s parents, and plan. For example, you might want to avoid using strong room fragrances.
  • Similarly, children may have very specific habits when it comes to food. It may be that they don’t like certain textures or that certain foods must never touch – these little things can really make a difference. 
  • Children with ASD are particularly susceptible to food allergies and intolerances too, so make sure you are aware of these as well. And don’t be offended if they don’t want to eat – they may be too excited!


Take things step by step, and plan the playdate

  • Avoid overwhelming your child’s friend with too much change, by slowly increasing familiarity. You may want to start with a visit to their house, where they are already comfortable, so you can meet them and their parents.
  • When they do visit your house, it may help to invite one of their parents over to begin with, while they settle in.
  • Start with short, regular playdates and build up to longer ones. This way, you and your child can begin to build a picture of what their friend likes to do when they come over, and they can become more comfortable visiting.
  • Make a plan for each visit and review it with both children so they feel confident with the routine; let their parents know what you have planned as well, so they can discuss the plan with their child if they need to.
  • Avoid making any last-minute changes unless absolutely necessary, as this can be unsettling for a child with ASD.


Don’t take it personally if they change their mind

  • This is another time when the relationship between parents is paramount; the child’s parents need to feel comfortable cancelling at the last minute, and will really appreciate having another parent who can be flexible and empathetic.
  • You also need to be able to explain to your child why this may happen, and that it is not because their friend doesn’t like them – again, ask the child’s parents how they would prefer this to be dealt with, as it is likely the children will talk about it when they see each other next. 
  • Children are generally very understanding, but they may have some questions that you will need to answer to help them along the way.


You are your child’s most important role model. If you treat everyone equally and value diversity, your child will do the same. Children’s biggest lessons start at home and you set a great example by taking the time to understand and learn about how to best include children with SEND.

We hope these tips have been helpful and remember, don’t be discouraged if your first playdate doesn’t go to plan. The fact you are making an effort is what will mean the most to your child’s friend and their family.

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This post was written by Claire Gillies

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