On perusing my past entries I noticed that I had not, as yet, mentioned the play group I helped start. To that end, I thought my readers might enjoy hearing about some of our successes and may want to think about bringing their kids.

The idea started a fews years back. As soon as we heard “social deficits” I began taking Raymond to a play group once a week, booking play dates at every opportunity and getting Raymond as many social opportunities as possible. I noticed, however, that as the more typical kids grew socially Raymond ended up on the outside more and more. This really bothered me.

You see, I am a very social person. I love to connect and communicate, and conversation and cameraderie are among my principal joys. It frustrated me that my son might be denied something so important to me. I also felt that it was not fair that he not have the same opportunities for friendship as other kids just because he had a disability. My wife, sick of my ranting, told me to do something about it.

So I did. I started posting on craigslist, bulletin boards and wherever else I could find about a play group for special needs kids. I didn’t have much luck, and some of that I attribute to being a dad instead of a mom. See, stay at home dads aren’t invited into “mommy and me” groups. I don’t know if its because there are so few of us or if its something else, but that barrier was tougher to navigate than I thought. Luckily help was on the way.

During a playdate with another boy on the spectrum, another mom told us she was trying to start a play group to create social opportunities. She had flyers printed up and everything! So we talked and decided to combine our efforts. She broke through the gender barrier and I helped her spread the word. We put flyers up all over town!

Things started slowly with a trickle of parents. We began small, having play dates in different homes. However, we soon noticed that the in home group was difficult primarily due to the large number of distractions. Between a new place to explore and a new set of toys we had difficulty generating meaningful interaction. We knew we had to break out, but where could we go?

Our first venture was to American Family Fitness. They were kind enough to let us use a room for free and even waived their fee for non members. We kept it simple. We did an obstacle course and a few social games. It worked like a charm. The new location and single room limited distractions and made it much easier to stay together as a group.

We we also started bowling at Liberty Lanes. They give us a great discount and are very accomodating. Once a quarter our kids get great heavy work lifting a bowling ball! We also do an outdoor play group a couple times a year.

We have grown from 2 families to 30 and our events get better every month. In fact, our March 2010 group featured a yoga instructor who volunteered her time to teach our kids a yoga class. Even though our play group can be a bit like herding cats, she had 14 kids on the spectrum calm and trying the exercises. It was amazing.

Many parents were also looking for a support group. I was not interested in a crying jag, but I always wanted a place to discuss therapies, biomedical interventions, etc. To that end we started a monthly Think Tank, which is a place for positive parents to discuss solutions that work. I have gotten some great ideas from it.

If you are interested, send me an email or find me on facebook. We do have a facebook group, but it requires admin approval to join. I keep it that way because I want to protect the privacy of our kids and families. I also send out email updates for non-facebook folks. If you want to bring your kids to a place where no one will look at them like they’re crazy then our play group is the place for you!

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