Beyond the B.A.S.I.C.S. Blog

Strategies for Facilitated Play Dates

March 30, 2012

Set goals for the play date.  What’s the most important thing you want to accomplish? Some examples may include: appropriate touching, reciprocal conversations, turn-taking/following the rules, etc.  Discuss with your supervisor whether to explain to your client what you’ll be measuring during the play date.

Ask your client, his caregivers, or his teachers for suggestions as to who to invite to the play date.  If your client doesn’t know, or can’t answer, ask his teachers who he spends time with on the playground, or who he sits next to during free class time.  Ask also for a list of activities the peer enjoys – this will help you plan a successful play date. Parents can also join local parenting listservs and ask if any children want to do a playmate with their child. There are lots of families that love doing this.

Help your client invite his peer to the play date. Use scripts for phone conversations & role playing if necessary. If phone communication isn’t possible, try having your client write a note to his peer inviting him to play.  Remember to follow up with the peer’s parents to formalize plans, but be aware that doing so in front of your client may elicit a negative reaction.

Play dates should run approximately two hours or less. Consider starting with a significantly shorter date & adding time as your client becomes more skilled at social interaction.  A successful play date is more productive than a long play date.  If you’re time bound by a pre-set schedule, consider either beginning or ending the play date with a “down-time” activity: watching a short TV program, reading books, or listening to music. Playdates can be as short at 30 minutes.


Have your client choose three or four activities he enjoys and can play cooperatively. Remind him that he may play one, all, or none of these once his peer arrives. If turn-taking activities are problematic, consider using a visual timer or taking your client to a craft store to pick out an activity instead.  Making a simple recipe can also work well. The play date will be most effective if activities are mutually reinforcing for both client and peer, soconsider the peer’s preferences when helping your client choose activities.

Keep a few activity ideas in the back of your head as well – if you DO you probably won’t need them, but if you don’t, you can bet your client and his peer will rush through all 4 of your planned activities in the first ten minutes of the play date and you’ll be left wondering what to do for the last hour and fifty minutes.

Practice “being a good host” by having your client role play asking which activities his peer wants to do first/second/third.  Consider using a visual schedule so that both client and peer can see what’s coming next.

Practice “being flexible” in case the peer doesn’t want to play any of the previously chosen activities. Practice “being a good winner/loser” if necessary.

Practice “reciprocal interactions.”  Make sure your client knows if/when to respond to certain events (whether it be asking a question, making a comment, or helping his peer complete an activity).

Discuss with your supervisor how involved (s)he wants YOU to be during the play date.  Consider:

Whether you will continue to run your client’s behavior plans during the play date

How you will explain your presence to your client’s peers if they ask

iii.     When/If you should intervene should things start go awry

How your presence may affect any interactions (ie: will your role be that of an observer, a facilitator, or a participant in the activities?)


Make cooperation essential to the completion of any activity.  For example, if you decide to make pudding, have your client hold the measuring cup while his peer pours the milk. For art projects, have your client cut out pictures and his peer glue them on the background.

Model appropriate social interactions.

Be flexible.

Be discreet.

e.    If the children direct comments or questions towards the adults, redirect them to each other. (Talk through the kids rather than to them)


Assess (either with or without your client, depending on your supervisor’s recommendation) your client’s progress toward meeting his goals.

Discuss how the play date went with your supervisor, your client’s caregivers and his peer’s caregivers.

Analyze any problems that arose and make a plan to address them during the next play date.


Koegel, et al. “The Effectiveness of Contextually Supported Play Date Interactions Between Children With Autism and Typically Developing Peers.” Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities 2005, Vol. 30, No.2, 93-102.

Kok, AJ, et all. “A comparison of the effects of structured play and facilitated play approaches on preschoolers with autism. A case study.” Autism. 2002 June;6(2):  181-96.

Ratner, Alison, LCSW.

University of California, Santa Barbara’s Koegel Autism Center:


Melissa L. Ruiz, BCaBA


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