Playing with Your Child with Special Needs

Parenting any child is a full-time job, and the amount of work can increase exponentially when your child has special needs. In addition to the usual parenting tasks, your days are often filled with therapies, extra equipment, and educational activities designed to help your child reach his full potential. It can seem, sometimes, as if your role as playmate gets pushed to the side, but that’s a role that’s as important as any other in your child’s life.

Playing with your child helps to strengthen your relationship, build social and developmental skills, and-something that can get forgotten in a sea of diagnoses and therapies-reminds you both that despite everything, she is still simply a child.

Playtime with a child with special needs doesn’t require lots of expensive toys designed to build certain skills. Chances are many of the things in the toy box already can help increase skills while having fun.

Dolls and stuffed animals can help your child develop social skills. Act out a variety of scenes, and let your child take the lead. Playing dress-up can help in the same way: whether acting out different activities like playing house, or pretending to take a doll to a zoo of stuffed animals, you can demonstrate appropriate social behavior for your child without turning it into a lesson.

Playing with things like blocks, matchbox-sized cars and jigsaw puzzles all exercise fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Doing simple crafts and art projects help in these areas as well, and nothing is better than seeing the joy of accomplishment on your child’s face when he sees his project proudly displayed on your wall or shelf. Even a child with limited fine motor skills may be able to make a lovely abstract finger painting, as long as the texture of the paint isn’t bothersome to him; this can be the case when kids have sensory issues as with autism.

If your child is self mobile-even if she can push herself in a wheelchair-get outside and play for a while. Playing tag or hide-and-seek are great ways to reinforce social skills like taking turns and playing fair. Most kids can be safely strapped into a swing and enjoy the feel of the breeze on their faces as they fly through the air, and even a child who can’t sit up alone can go down the slide on your lap.

The point of playtime isn’t necessarily to work on any skills, but you can see that most anything you do to have fun will benefit your child. The next time life gets stressful or crazy, think about kicking off your shoes, tossing the bills aside (just for now!) and getting down on the floor to play with that beautiful child of yours. It’s a decision that will brighten the day for both of you.

Playing with Your Child with Special Needs ~ by: April Fox
Published: May 25, 2010 © Carolina Pediatric Therapy

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