How it differs from typical parallel play in young allistic children, and its importance for the social and emotional development of autistic individuals.
Parallel play is a term used to describe the way young children play alongside each other, but not necessarily with each other.
Autistic Parallel play is a way to describe the social low-pressure and natural play among autistics of all ages.
It's important for allistics to learn about and know the differences between autistic parallel play and NT parallel play.
Not just to recognize and celebrate it, but to truly understand and support autistic individuals
- and even learn something new about communication styles.
Parallel play is often seen as a developmental milestone for neurotypical children, but for autistic individuals, it is an important form of communication and sharing interests.
While parallel play in neurotypical toddlers involves playing alongside each other without interacting, the parallel play of autistic individuals looks very different, and is often misunderstood.
Autistic parallel play is not only or simply a lack of interest in socialising or an inability to interact with peers. Rather, it is a form of play that involves sharing experiences and interests in a way that is more comfortable and meaningful for autistic individuals.
Autistic children often struggle with Neurotypical social interactions and forming friendships, and parallel play provides a safe and low-stress environment in which they can develop social skills and build relationships on their own terms.
Parallel play can be particularly beneficial for autistic children because it allows them to engage in activities that interest them without the pressure of having to communicate or interact with others in a way that is uncomfortable or unfamiliar.
It's very important to note that the continuation of autistic parallel play should not be seen as a negative or wrong way of playing.
Some parents and educators may view it as a sign of developmental issues, social withdrawal or a lack of interest in interacting with others, but this is a misconception. Autistic children may simply prefer to engage and develop early parallel play into autistic parallel play instead of moving on to more neurotypical social interactions.
We need to shift the narrative and recognize the value in the unique forms of socialisation that autistic play and communication bring to the table.
Parallel play is an essential aspect of autistic play, communication, and sharing.
It provides a safe and low-stress environment in which autistic children can develop social skills and build relationships with others who share similar interests and communication styles.
When we invalidate the importance of parallel play in autistic individuals, we risk denying autistics the opportunity to learn and grow in a natural (autistic) way.
Because play is as important for autistics as for allistics, the negative consequences for the healthy development of young autistics can be very severe, if their preferred form of autistic free play is continuously shamed or infantilised.
Parallel play can, besides providing tons of benefits as other play-styles do, also be a valuable precursor to more complex social interactions with allistics, as it allows autistic children to develop skills such as turn-taking, sharing, and communication in a low-pressure environment.
By building these skills through parallel play, autistic children can gradually incorporate these into more interactive and collaborative play with their neurotypical peers.
But! By not always expecting autistics to conform and instead joining autistics in parallel play, allistics can learn how to engage with others in a way that is much more comfortable for autistics.
It can lead to a more sincere experience of socialisation and interaction for all neurotypes.
Parallel play is a valuable form of communication and social interaction for autistic individuals, but it's often misunderstood and seen as a faulty development by allistics.
The truth is that autistic parallel play is different from the parallel play of NT children, and it's much more advanced in older children and adults, with a focus on shared spaces and sharing of information and interests.
Different forms of autistic parallel play can emerge, when different people connect and a lot of autistic parallel play is a form of learning new friends rhythms, ways of thinking, levels of trust or needs for interaction in a non-intrusive way.
By not understanding this, allistics are missing out on the unique communication and play styles of autistic individuals, and they're hurting us by perpetuating a harmful stigma.
It's important to recognize the value in providing a positive and participate in spaces where young autistic individuals can develop and thrive in their preferred form of free social interaction..
Doing that, will make it easier for autistics and allistics to find tools to connect more openly, where the special needs of the different neurotypes and personalities overlap.
Supporting Autistic Parallel Play: Strategies for Allistics
One way allistics can learn about and support autistic parallel play is by providing resources and opportunities for autistic individuals to explore and engage in their preferred play style.
This can include providing sensory-friendly spaces and materials, facilitating meet-ups or play dates for autistic individuals, and promoting a positive and accepting attitude towards different forms of communication and play.
Allistics can also learn about the nuances of autistic parallel play by listening to the experiences and perspectives of autistic individuals, whether through reading blogs and books written by autistic authors or by seeking out information from reputable sources. By actively seeking to understand and support autistic parallel play, allistics can contribute to a more inclusive and accepting society for autistic individuals.
At Ari Learning, an example of how parallel play can be incorporated into online learning is through classes as in Teacher Yvonne's "Let's Draw and Visit - Small Group Interaction"-class on Outschool.
Art is a great way to share space in different social settings and in the smaller classes, it's often possible to match learners seeking out ND-friendly classes specific for autistic parallel play. (Just Ask)
This type of class provides a stress-free and safe environment where autistic learners can engage in their interests while also interacting with others who share the same passion. By joining a class like this, autistic learners can develop their social skills through parallel play while also exploring their creativity and learning new things.
Enjoy exploring new ways of playing and learning!
I promise, allistics too will find lots of benefits in learning how to interact with autistic parallel play depending on whom you are sharing the experience with. Some people have compared autistic parallel play with shared meditation, some have learned to enjoy shared silence in a new way and others have learned whole new skills in spacial knowledgde niches, the art of daydreaming, organising or seeking sensory euforia.
Enjoy learning by playing :)