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Play is important.

Play IS Important

Play is an important activity for children to develop social skills. Playing helps children learn to get along with other youngsters, take turns, cooperate, follow rules and develop relationships with adults. The importance of the social interaction in play has been given limited time and attention in the lives of children with disabilities. As a result, youngsters who may often need special assistance in developing social skills are denied access to an important arena for learning -- one available to all other youngsters.

Professionals, therapists, educators and, understandably, parents are likely to focus their attention on the child's special needs for "treatments" to improve physical skills, language development or reading and writing. Clearly, both the emotional "pull" of the child's inability to walk, talk or care for him or herself and our society's emphasis on athletic and academic achievement contribute to the fact that caring adults tend to forget about play and fun in reference to the child with a disability. In fact, it is common that when professionals and parents get around to a discussion of play, they emphasize its value for physical or intellectual progress, rather than the development of a sense of self and social skills.

Unwittingly, by devoting so much time and energy to therapeutic and educational activities for children with disabilities, the joys of play have been relatively inaccessible. As a result, the joys of playing in the sand, dressing up, imitating superheroes, planting a seed, scribbling with a crayon, feeding an animal, having sleepovers, with friends, hanging around the playground or the mall, listening to loud rock music, and so many of the other activities of childhood are not part of the growing up experiences of many youngsters with disabilities. Certainly, a child's disability can impose some limits on participation in play activities. Nonetheless, just as parents and professionals have begun to raise their expectations for children with disabilities and expect that they shall have access to the range of educational and vocational opportunities available to everyone else, it is time to raise our expectations about play and fun.

Parents and professionals may have had little or no experience themselves in the course of their own growing up in playing with a child who has a disability. At the same time, adults can remember the kinds of activities they enjoyed (and may continue to enjoy), observe other children enjoying themselves, and then find ways to involve a child with a disability in similar activities.

Any parent may have difficulty playing with their child because of feeling embarrassed about the "childishness" of the activity and/or because the activity the child enjoys is of no interest. Many adults are hopeful that as their child grows up, there will be areas of mutual interest and satisfaction.

Many fathers have a difficult time playing with a child when the child cannot easily take part in activities that other children the same age can. For example, when a child has difficulty with coordination, a father who is eager to "play ball" may find himself frustrated by his child's struggle to perform and withdraw from participation for fear that the child will suffer from lack of success. In such situations, it helps for parents to remember that just being with a child -- without making any demands for performance -- can be great fun for the child. Then, a parent can look for ways to adapt activities so that children can participate. Or, parents can encourage children to be active spectators when activities are beyond their abilities.

Mothers and fathers also need to remember how important fun is in their own lives. While being dedicated to one's children may be commendable, sacrificing oneself is destructive to everyone in the family. So, while parents need to find ways to create and enjoy play activities with their children, it is also essential that they find time for themselves -- to enjoy adult activities without interruptions from children who want to play with them!

All children, no matter what their limitations may be, can participate in fun activities -- even ones that have no evident developmental or therapeutic value. Yet, many parents will need encouragement and specific suggestions to be able to find ways to play with their children and enjoy doing it. The time has come to pay attention to recess!!
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Author:Klein, Stanley D.; Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Article Type:editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1990
Previous Article:Adaptive toys.
Next Article:All by self; a story about fathering.

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