Playground Etiquette For Children With Autism In Toronto

There has always been the ‘Law of the Playground’ to contend with amongst children playing in a fixed setting. They operate under their own set of rules that are not always immediately apparent, and can shift abruptly depending on whether there are adults present or not. For most children in Ontario, navigating these waters can be an eye-opening experience, but for children in Toronto with autism, it comes with its own unique challenges.

Here we will explore ten essentials that parents should know to help better promote positive playground etiquette for neurodivergent children. With a little understanding, a mind for inclusivity, and some general awareness of how things are, we can work together to ensure that playgrounds become positive spaces for all children to enjoy. Here are ten reasons why play is an important learning tool for children with autism.

1. Sensory Sensitivities Are Always A Factor

Try to find somewhere in the shade without a bunch of loud distracting noise nearby. When it comes to neurodivergent children, it’s important to consider sensory sensitivities when finding the best spot for them to start on the playground. This goes for touch as well. Some children with autism may be sensitive to certain textures, like the water in a tire swing, or the coarseness of a handrail. Additionally, it’s important to be mindful of places where there can be abrupt or changing movements, such as swings and the bottom of a slide, so opt for sensory-friendly equipment that acts to enhance their experience.

2. Teach Your Child Social Skills and Communication

Practice makes perfect. Actively encourage the development of social skills and communication by having your child play with other children they have never met before. This helps to provide opportunities for children with autism to get better at turn-taking, sharing, and verbal or non-verbal communication. Overall, this fosters positive interactions on the playground.

3. Encourage An Inclusive Play Environment

Help to educate your child, the children at the playground, and the other parents there as well, that playgrounds need to work for everyone, and that patience is an important part of parallel play. Foster the creation of play spaces that are inclusive, regardless of various needs. It’s up to the park to provide—and the parent to find—diverse play equipment and sensory-friendly areas for children with autism to engage comfortably.

4. Find Quiet Spaces And Allow For Breaks

A playground can get overwhelming at times. Seek out quiet spaces for children who may need to take a short break from the sensory stimulation of a chaotic environment. Creating safe and calm areas with decreased sensory stimuli can be beneficial for those who require moments of peace.

5. Teach Children To Respect Personal Space

Neurodivergent children have different boundaries when it comes to their comfort levels around other people. Teach your child (and other children that are there as well), the importance of respecting personal space. Many children with autism may have rigid barriers set up and can get agitated when their area is encroached. Coaching them a little about flexibility and helping other children understand these needs promotes a more harmonious play environment.

6. Make Use Of Visual Supports

Many children with autism learn better with visual cues. Be sure to implement visual supports, such as visual schedules or pictographs, to foster an understanding of playground rules and routines. Instructional visual aids provide clear guidance for neurodivergent children, contributing to a smoother experience overall.

7. Actively Encourage Parallel Play

As your child grows, they will be introduced to more and more opportunities to play with others while on the playground. See this as a boon as opposed to a potential area for conflict. It’s important to recognize the value of parallel play, in time. At first, some neurodivergent children may prefer solo play adjacent to others rather than directly engaging. This form of play should be acknowledged and respected. No need to rush things.

8. Offer Positive Reinforcement

A little reward like a high five or a hug can go a long way. Provide positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviour. Recognizing and reinforcing positive interactions and behaviours on the playground contribute to a supportive and inclusive atmosphere.

9. Educate Their Peers

Don’t expect other children to immediately understand the unique needs of your child. Be patient with them. Raise awareness amongst the kids and their parents about autism and the diverse ways individuals play and interact. This can foster understanding, empathy, and a play dynamic that is more inclusive to everyone. Also, be prepared for other kids to say “no” when it comes to joining your child in play. The truth is, no matter how much we have done to support inclusivity, people may still say “no”, and that’s okay.

10. Embrace Diversity in Play Styles

No two children play exactly alike, and that’s okay. Let the children be. Celebrate diversity in play styles. Neurodivergent children may engage in imaginative or repetitive play that isn’t the same cup of tea as their peers. And that’s perfectly acceptable. Acknowledging and appreciating these varied styles contributes to an inclusive and enriching playground experience.

Playground etiquette for children with autism in Toronto revolves around fostering an inclusive and understanding environment. By embracing diversity, promoting awareness, and incorporating thoughtful design elements, we can ensure that playgrounds become spaces where every child can play, explore, and enjoy the benefits of social interaction.