Social interaction and games with peers are one of the most difficult things to initiate when it comes to children with intellectual disability. The biggest challenge for me, as a parent, was to transform unwanted aggressive behavior to socially acceptable and desirable. Once I stopped trying that and accepted that behavior as a part of Mitra’s personality, the real magic happened.
Through my experience, I realized that playing games with my daughter does not have to be so hard; the secret is to know how. The important thing is to allow her to choose what kind of games she wants to play, instead of forcing her to play with what I consider more important.
As she usually has a very narrow set of toys or objects she loves to play with, I try not to focus on introducing many new ones (and by that, new rules), but on adapting to her vision of reality and bringing the game to a higher level. By encouraging her to let me become her plating partner, I get myself involved in her own special world. In that way, especially through pretending games, I get able to work on developing her consciousness of others and increasing her level of empathy.
Whenever I notice that she does not approve me as a playing partner, I would show her what acceptable behavior is by using her toys as models. That helped me understand better her challenges and interests or what makes her sad or happy, and it got me closer to her vision of life.
As she has a high ability to focus, but only on the activities and objects she finds interesting, if I focus on that area and use it as reference point of development, the results can be quite remarkable and also helpful in her future life. For example, if she is showing talent for piano, to develop that skill includes development of fine motor skills, which can gradually be implemented in her daily life such as tying a shoelace, holding cutlery etc.
After she achieves a certain level of skills and knowledge it is crucial to pass from imaginative playing (which is aimed at the object) over to role-playing games (which are aimed at the person). Symbolical game is something that should always be nourished. This kind of game helps us know her better. Subconsciously children are changing their vision of reality when they are playing roles and in this case I had the opportunity to help her understand others and to make her social skills better. Role-playing games make her accept me to become a part of her world and she gets able to have an interactive game and to create contact with another person.
Interaction with other children
The biggest challenge is when her counter partners are other children. It is also important to explain the other children that their friend is thinking differently from them and that they have to be patient and caring. Encouraging other children to initiate contact and take part in collective games will also improve child’s self-esteem and a feeling that they are accepted, which is most valuable. This is also very the hardest part as it is not always so easy to explain this to other children in an easy and understandable way; this makes us dependent on getting help from those children’s parents – something which is not always that easy!
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