Part 1: Neurodivergent Playdate
So here’s the deal… a couple of months ago we had our very first family playdate with our neurodivergent child- and it ended very abruptly in a very stressful way. Naturally, I took the podcast mic to spew my feelings the next day, which is what you’re going to hear in part 1 of this episode.
It’s very raw, very emotional and to be honest I almost didn’t want to share it because since it’s not been several weeks/months later and I’ve had time to process and we’ve had a few more successful playdates since then, part of me is like- was I being kind of dramatic?
But- I remember many of you out there listening is in the same boat or have been in the same boat in the past and you might feel like you’re the only one who has experienced this.
I wanted to show you that you’re not alone.
So I’m going to air it- however, stay till the end because I do come back in with a part 2, where you can hear my more logical thoughts on the playdate AND some practical tips that we use now and will continue using moving forward.
Part 2: Relfections
OK, so I’m back- this is now several weeks later and the emotions have settled and I’m now in a less emotional state, more logical, reflective state and even though I said it’s okay to just allow yourself to feel the feelings and I want to be that creator who shows up authentically and just vents sometimes.
I felt like I wanted to come back to this episode and at least leave you with some hope/ end on a positive note.
Since our neurodivegrent child’s playdate, we have hung out with that same family at least once if not two more times, but outside of the house. We’ve had a couple of other playdates with other families as well in “neutral” spaces and have had so much more luck with that.
Looking for the best ways to support your neurodivergent child through intense, 20+ minute long meltdowns? The answer lies in supporting them through all 4 stages: before, during, after and BETWEEN the meltdowns. Grab this pre-recorded workshop for my step by step guidance.
So here’s my quickfire list of tips to make neurodivergent playdates a little smoother for everyone.
First, pick a place familiar “enough” for your child but neutral territory- like a park you’ve been to before or a playspace you’ve been to before.
Second, I would limit the playdate to just one child 1:1 with yours, of course, that includes siblings but I haven’t tackled the 2-3 friend playdate yet, I think that one is too hard for Liliana right now.
Next, set a particular time range like “10:30-12:30” and pick a window that is safest in terms of your child’s regulation.
Prepare everyone with expectations about the play date:
Then, I would talk to the other parent and call out some things that might happen- this helped me feel the most prepared so I wasn’t on edge the whole playdate, knowing that the other parent is aware something might happen just made me feel more at ease.
So something as simple as “We’re still getting used to playdates and sometimes she can get overwhelmed easily with heat/sounds (your specifics) so there might come a time she has a meltdown, this is totally normal for us and I just wanted to let you know if I have to make a quick exit or pull her aside not to worry about us!
And sorry in advance if I have to make a quick exit, sometimes she doesn’t give me clues until she’s way past the point of no return.”
You could also say what you might expect in terms of behaviors:
“I anticipate taking turns with the cars they play with will be hard, but I do want her to practice. I just wanted you to know this is something we’re working on and I’ll want to keep an eye on them when they play cars. If I notice it getting too hard do you mind if we put the cars away and switch to something outside”
Lastly, talk to your child (if they have the speaking and communication abilities to understand)- Prep them for where you’re going, and what time you’re getting there, and show pictures/videos of the place you’re visiting if they haven’t been there in a while.
This is also the time I would call out things that COULD happen so they’re mentally prepared.
“We’re going with John and his sister- his sister might want to play too, it’s important to share space.”
or “I know when you go to that park you love going on the slide first, John might not like the slide so you’ll have to figure out how to compromise or be flexible spending some time alone to do what you each want to do.”
Don’t forget to give them examples of what they can do when they feel overwhelmed.
“When you start getting that hot feeling in your face, come over to mom and we’ll go get a sip of water.”
I would also go into it knowing your child’s very clear dysregulation cues and knowing when to cut the visit short before it gets too escalated.
Always pack snacks- self-explanatory.
I hope this episode was helpful!
Laura (00:00):The ones that make it through are families of divergent kids, which could also be really hard to hang out with as well. We have two neuro divergent kids together. How would that go? Or parents of neurotypical kids who pass all those filters, but then it’s like, but then they also don’t truly get what it’s like and it just feels like we’re left with nothing. We can’t hang out with other divergent families, but we also can’t hang out with families of neurotypical kids who don’t get it. Welcome to the Sensory Wise Solutions podcast for parents where parents can get real actionable strategies to support kids with sensory processing disorder. I’m Laura OT and mom to Liliana, a sensory sensitive kid who inherited my anxiety and my love for all things Disney. Consider me your new OT mom. Bestie. I know my stuff, but I also know what it’s really like in the trenches of parenting a child with sensory processing disorder. Liliana (01:02):Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s start the podcast. Laura (01:09):Hello everyone. Welcome to the podcast. This is a newer introduction because what I’m about to play for you is basically going to be a two part episode in one. What I mean by that is I recorded the first half of this one day and then I let that episode kind of just simmer. It was more like a word vomit diary thing. And I was like, I’m not going to publish this. I’m not going to publish this. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I should publish it, but I needed to preface it Now that I’m coming from a clearer mind because the beginning part of this episode is all very much raw and unfiltered and unscripted, and I was going specifically off of emotions, so I wanted you to see that. But I also wanted to add on some pieces to it so that it could be a more valuable episode, I would say, with some information. (02:04):So I need to give you some context. So here’s the deal. A couple of months ago we had our very first family play date, family play date, meaning it wasn’t only just the kids and the moms, but the dad and the sibling was with us as well. It was a whole family thing at our house and it ended very abruptly in a very stressful way. So naturally, I took to the podcast Mike to spew all of my feelings the very next day, which again is what you’re going to hear in part one of this episode. And since it’s been enough time to process, we’ve had a few more successful play since then. And part of me was like, I don’t know, was I being dramatic? And I, again, I wasn’t sure I was going to post it, but I know a lot of you out there who listen to this are in the same boat and really this part of our story and hearing this. So I wanted you to have this so that you’re not alone. So make sure you stay till the end though, because I’m going to come back to, I’m going to revisit it and tie it all together so you can hear more of my logical thoughts on the play date and some practical tips that we use now and will continue moving forward. All right, so here’s the part one. (03:27):Hello everyone. Well, here we are, another unscripted episode, which means something happened. When I mean something happened, I mean, I usually don’t jump to these unscripted episodes unless I have something on the top of my mind that I just want to verbally vomit out to the internet to a bunch of strangers because I know that being a parent to a neurodivergent kid is hard and I have a lot of supportive friends and family who I could easily pick up the phone and vent and call to. But there’s something different about venting to people in your personal life in front of them live on a phone call or in person where air you can sense their need to fix the problem or fix your feeling because they feel uncomfortable when you’re unloading on them. You know what I mean? So no shame to any of my friends or family who might be listening to this. (04:37):I just don’t feel comfortable venting to you, not only because you don’t understand fully what we go through because you don’t have divergent kids even though you all try very hard. But also because I don’t want to put the burden on you to feel like you have to comfort me or soothe me. I just truly want to vent to people who actually get it. And that happens to be a bunch of strangers who are now maybe acquaintances via DM and people who listen to this podcast. So here we are. I am verbally unleashing live right now as I process something that happened last night. So we had our very first play date in our house. So Liliana is around five and a half now. This is the first play date that she can remember where we’ve had over to our house when she was one or two. (05:43):I would have mommy and me play dates with one or two kids at our house. And those never went well either, but she was like two and that was casual. This was the first invite a whole family over the mom, the dad, the little brother, were planning dinner. We had drinks planned. It was a whole event. I cleaned the whole house. We were all preparing for this, right? And Liliana was very excited. So that’s what happened last night. And now that I have told you that I’m sure as parents and neurodivergent kids, you can think I know where this is going, so I’m not going to give too much detail. But basically it went pretty well. She impressed me a lot of the moments in how she stretched, how she played because she was, she’s typically very rigid in how she plays, but she played new things. (06:43):She played differently with this kid. She mostly shared her space pretty well. But I think the culprit, the scapegoat thing that I’m going to blame it on is that the play date went on pretty late in the night. So that’s one added layer on top of the layer that this whole thing is new for her in general. And she was, she’s still not fully back to a hundred percent health. She’s had this lingering cough and cold for over a week now. So all of that combined the play date didn’t end well. It ended abruptly from a really big meltdown that she had. And while we know my husband and I like this isn’t a surprise to us and the people who we had a play date with, they know based on how I’ve talked about Liliana, they know that she has some emotional regulation challenges. So I think they were pretty mentally prepared, but all of us, I think even Liliana included, did not actually think she would have the level of meltdown that she did in front of other people. And there was a lot of feelings that came with that. And this is less than 24 hours later that I’m sitting down to talk about this and the feelings are pretty still strong for my husband and I. And that’s really what prompted me to have this podcast episode. (08:17):We all feel embarrassed. All I know Liliana feels embarrassed. My husband and I feel embarrassed. What we can reason our way out of that and say, well, this, it was late and it was this, it’s not a big deal. But in the spirit of letting everybody have their feelings and their emotions it is a very strong feeling of embarrassment and this other feeling that I’m going to share that I know a lot of parents of neurodivergent kids get flack for, and that is the feeling, a sense of grief, is that the right way to phrase it? Feeling? I feel like we’re grieving a sense of loss, and I know that I hear a lot of times from autistic individuals, neurodivergent individuals now who say that it doesn’t feel good to hear your parents say they’re grieving over a child that’s still in front of them, but they’re grieving rather that like, oh, you’re grieving that. I didn’t turn out how you wanted me to be like, that makes you feel really bad as the person your parents are grieving. And I get that and I hear that, and I know as the parent, I can’t take away, I can’t explain the feelings that I’m having any other way. (09:40):And I hope that when Liliana grows up that she knows that her mom and dad still love her very much and we expected parenthood to be different. And it’s not her fault. It’s not our fault. We’re just entitled to having those feelings. And right now, I am the main feeling I’m walking away with after processing the embarrassment is the sense of I am seeing the future of this is not going to be the last time she has a play date that ends in a meltdown. And I see the future of, gosh, how many of these awkward goodbyes are we going to have and these awkward day after conversations where we have to apologize to the parents for the behavior of our kid. And I’m saying that as a parent who is walking this journey of conscious parenting and authoritative parenting with boundaries and feelings, and I know having all of the insights to my child’s brain and I still have these initial gut reactions of there’s something wrong with my kid and I need to apologize for her behavior, and if I were coaching other parents through this, I would be coaching them differently. But that’s why I feel so, I feel like it’s so necessary for me to show up in this way on this podcast episode talking about the reality of it and what really goes through my mind. (11:15):So yeah, there’s this thinking about the future and are we ever going to be able to have a good relationship with friends who have kids that can play with our daughter and it not end terribly during the play day? Yesterday, I keep calling it a play date, it was a hangout it parents and their kids came over to our house for dinner and drinks and we were hanging out from four to 9 45. It was really long. We were having so much fun, and I can’t stress this enough, my husband and I really needed that. The feeling of isolation has been long going on for us for a long time, and it’s of course this big sandwich in between the years of having Liliana of the pandemic where we were actually physically isolated from other people and we happened to have just moved during the pandemic. (12:16):So we were in a new city and in a pandemic. So that stretch of time from 2020 to early 2022 we really didn’t have a lot of meeting other families and with other kids her age and we don’t have friends in our personal lives and family members who have kids her age. So we really just don’t have a lot of experience getting that hangout time with adults and letting the kids run around and play. We don’t have neighbors that are her age. We just really do not have that. So we have been longing for this connection with other adults who, where we don’t have to do it, where we have to find a babysitter for Liliana, so we could go out just the adults or where we don’t have, where hang out with other adults who don’t have kids, so they also don’t get it. (13:13):So it felt so good in those few hours where everything was working out. We were having a great adult conversation, having drinks, eating, and the kids were literally running around and playing, and I remember looking at me, oh, this feels so nice. I’m so glad we’ve arrived here at this time in our parenthood and we can do this now. It felt so good, and then very quickly it turned and it changed and the next day, right now my thought is like, oh. And so as quick as it arrived, that moment of being able to feel like we could hang out with other families, it was quickly ripped away by the reality of having a neurodivergent child. And no matter how much I prepped her for all of it, we practiced. Sometimes you just can’t avoid this. (14:12):I think the extra layers of it being late and her being sick definitely did not help. So I’m hopeful that not every play date is going to be like that, but of course for this to be the first one and to have it be so joyful and enjoyable for me and my husband in that moment and then to have it quickly take a turn was just a hard mix of different feelings like together. So I’m just left with this feeling of grief of I don’t think we’re going to have a lot of fun experiences like that. Again, I just see this happening over and over again with different families who eventually don’t want to hang out with us because of that. And I was telling my husband, it’s so hard, there’s so many filters that you have when it comes to picking a family to spend your time with on the weekend. (15:19):The first filter is do they have kids second filter? Are those kids somewhat in the same age range of my kids? Third filter, will our kids actually get along? Fourth filter, do the adults actually get along because you could be the nicest adults but have nothing in common, nothing to talk about. So many different things because if you have a full family hangout, you’re stuck together at the house or the restaurant or the park and you have to have conversation that’s four filters without even getting to the piece of neurodiversity for me. Then the fifth filter is does this family understand what neurodiversity is and that the behaviors my child has is not a reflection on her as a person and is not a reflection on us as parents. They need to fully grasp the idea that my daughter might yell, shut up, which happened last night, or be hitting her mom and dad in a true meltdown, and that does not mean that she’s a bad kid or that we’re terrible parents. (16:17):That’s the fifth filter that they just understand that the sixth filter for us is not only that they understand that, but are they willing to come around it and be around that and feel okay with that? And so when I think about it that you would think, let’s hang out with another family who has neurodivergent kids, so they get it. But also if we hung out with another family who had a kid, Liliana, the amount of meltdowns and triggers that would happen would be too much. All of those filters, what did I name five or six filters? The ones that make it through are families of divergent kids, which could also be really hard to hang out with as well. We have two divergent kids together. How would that go? Or parents of neurotypical kids who pass all those filters, but then they also don’t truly get what it’s like and it just feels like we’re left with nothing. (17:20):We can’t hang out with other neurodivergent families, but we also can’t hang out with families of neurotypical kids who don’t get it unless you have parents of neurotypical kids who have the compassion and the grace and the empathy for you which luckily the family we had the play date with, they are the most amazing, sweet understanding family and we had a really great conversation about it and we’re definitely going to keep trying. Again, this wasn’t the last time, but it just was a real big blow. It was gut wrenching to experience that as parents for Mark and I. So we’re lucky that the first experience happened with this family, but not all families are going to be that understanding, and I don’t want to place this all on Liliana. I don’t want to place this all on her. It is not her fault. (18:12):I do just wish that she understands before it’s too late that these are the times when these are the things that other kids will judge you on. To be quite frank, it’s one thing for me to talk to the other kid’s parents and be like, this is what’s going on. She’s neuro divergent. Thank you for understanding all of that. But it’s another for the actual kid who’s playing with to understand that and be okay with it and be like they still want to play with her and be around her. I don’t know what to do with that. I don’t have the right answers, of course. I don’t want her to never have friends, but I also understand why other people would not want to hang out with her even with all of the amazing positive, very sweet qualities that she has. She is a very kind friend. (19:03):She’s a very good friend, but I know kids notice other behaviors and she’s a five and a half year old girl who still has a really hard time harnessing those emotions, and I don’t want it to happen, but I could see down the road kids not wanting to spend time with her as much if she keeps having that. So while I don’t want to ever change her brain, I do want to be able to support her better. And as traumatizing as this first play date experience was, I know it’s a matter of practice and repetitions that we need. So I’m not going to let this scare us away, and I’m not going to let this stop us from having hangouts. I will try to always work around it and have the timeline work out better, make sure she’s not sick all of that. But this is just one of those moments where it’s it really reality sinks in where we have a divergent child and I wanted to come on here and just be very open and real about the emotions that I’m still processing as that. (20:27):Even as someone like the OT butterfly who has all of the tips and tricks and mindset shifts in accepting your neurodivergent child how they are and celebrating that, yes, I still have that part in me and I’m still human and I’m still a mom who wants the best for her child and I can’t hide that. And I see a lot of creators and vloggers and people who show up on Instagram and they’ll say like, oh, I’m going through a hard time right now. I just don’t want to show up a lot because I never want to be this negative person on here. I only want to come on here and be positive and I just hate being negative on Instagram or on whatever I’m watching. I see people talk like that all the time, and I’m sure there’s people who appreciate that and like that because no one wants to just see someone complain all the time, but I’m not that person. I am not always a hundred percent positive. (21:31):Obviously I work with a therapist for my own emotions, but in terms of how I show up here on this podcast and in my Instagram and in my communities that I serve, I find a lot of value in showing this authentic side to parenthood because I know that so many of you need to hear it because I know so many of you still blame yourselves for not showing up a certain way or for showing up the wrong way or for thinking about your child the wrong way or for not enjoying parenthood, all of those things that culture and society tell us that as parents, particularly moms, how we shouldn’t feel that way about our kids. I’m telling you, it is normal and I feel that way too sometimes, and right now is one of those times. So I’m sorry that this podcast may have triggered some emotions or maybe tears for you as well, but I hope you know that you’re not alone and I will be back for many, many episodes to give you more hope and inspiration and uplifting stuff and tips and tricks. (22:38):But today was not one of them. But I thank you for listening to this anyway and allowing me to vent. Okay, hang on, don’t go anywhere. The episode is not over. This is a few months later, Laura, coming back after the emotions have settled and I’m now in a less emotional state, more logical reflective state. And even though I said it’s okay to just allow yourself to feel the feelings, which I want to leave that I also wanted to leave you with some information while showing up authentically. So since that play date, we have hung out with that same family at least once, if not a couple times now if I’m not mistaken. But it was not at our house and it’s gone much better. And we’ve also had a few other play dates with another family in neutral spaces and have had a lot more luck with that and play dates that were less full family involved and more just like mom and kid at a park. (23:36):So way less pressure, way less stress, way less overstimulation, which was my number one mistake. But I wanted to live leave you with some quickfire list of tips to make play dates a little smoother for everyone. So first tip is pick a place that’s familiar enough for your child, but is neutral territory like a park you’ve been to before or a play space you’ve been to before? Now I’m going to give a little asterisk caveat to this. What I realized was, so we’ve had several play dates over the holiday break and there was a park that Liliana really enjoyed, and every time we’d got invited to a play date, we would suggest this park. And I was like, great. It’s familiar. It’s not our house. She knows how to play there. It’s not new. Then came, then the curve came around and it was almost became a place that was too familiar to her where she started to create her own routines there and then be upset when different kids she would play with wanted to play differently in that space. (24:35):So that was not something I anticipated. So it’s almost like this happy medium of a place they’ve familiar with, but not territorial or very strict in their routine with, I know some of you know what I’m talking about. So it’s definitely good to take that into consideration. It’s also hard if it’s a brand new place that they’ve never been to before and doing a play date. So you got to kind of juggle all of that, say the two. So the number two tip is I would limit the play date to just one child, one-on-one with yours. Of course, there might be siblings involved, but if you’re talking about classmates, I wouldn’t tackle the two to three group play date yet two to three friends in addition to your child. I think that that specifically would be too hard for Liliana. She has a hard time splitting her time between friends and then there’s if two people group off and then there’s one left, it’s too much to manage in a play date right now. (25:30):Definitely we’ll want to be practicing that once we master the one-on-one play date. My third tip is to plan it with a very specific time range, like 10 30 to 1230 and pick a window that is safest in terms of your child’s regulation. Fourth, I would talk to the other parent and call out some things that might happen. So again, this is in the context of play dates where the parents still have to be present because we’re not in the drop off play date zone window age yet. So I do need to give the other parents a heads up. So this helped me at least feel more prepared so I wasn’t on the edge the whole play date, knowing that the other parent is kind of aware something might happen and it made me just feel more at ease being transparent. So it could be something as simple as a text and you’re like, Hey, we’re still getting used to play dates, and sometimes she can get overwhelmed easily with heat or sounds or whatever your specifics are. (26:26):So there might come a time when my child has a meltdown and this is totally normal for us, and I just want you to know if I have to make a quick exit or pull her aside, don’t worry about us and sorry in advance if I have to leave without saying bye. Sometimes she doesn’t give me clues until she’s way past the point of no return. You could what you might expect in terms of behaviors be very clear. Oh, I think taking turns with the cars that they play with will be hard, but I want her to practice. I just wanted you to know this is something we’re working on and I’ll want to keep an eye on them when they play cars. If I notice it getting too hard, do you mind if we put the cars away and switch to something outside? So really just planning ahead. I much prefer this than just the, let’s see what happens route, but your friends best if you are close with that family, but I feel like being transparent in advance is helpful. (27:19):Another tip, talk to your child, of course, if they have the speaking and communication abilities to understand, then prep them for where you’re going, what time you’re getting there. Show pictures and videos of the place you’re visiting if they haven’t been there in a while and this is also the time that I would definitely call out things that could happen so that they’re mentally prepared. So we are going with John and his little sister and his sister might want to play too. It’s important to share your space with the sister or I know when you go to that park, you love going on the slide first. John might not be ready for the slide, so you’ll have to figure out how to compromise or be flexible, spending some time alone to do what you each want to do or take turns and don’t forget to give them examples of what they can do. (28:08):If you have a feeling, they might get overwhelmed. So you could say when you’re starting when you start to get that hot feeling in your face or when your muscles start feeling tight, or when you get that feeling in your tummy, come over to mom and we’ll have a sip of water and hang out for just a minute to get your body ready to play again. You could put all of that into one social story, which I love, which is telling the story of going to the park on a play date. That’s a great way to tie it together for young kids or you could just have that as a conversation. (28:39):Another tip I have, the sixth tip is I would also go into it making sure that your child’s clear dysregulation cues as best as you can, and know when to cut the visit short before it gets too escalated. I believe this is called the window of tolerance, so really know your child’s cues inside and out, whether it’s a tone of voice, a pitch of the volume of their voice, if there’s a question that they start asking over and over if it’s a way that their body is standing, every little kid has their cues. I know liliana’s inside and out, and that our first play date, she showed me a lot of cues and I ignored it and that was a huge mistake of mine. But that’s okay. We live and learn. Last tip, I don’t think anybody is venturing on this side of wild when you go to a play date without snacks. (29:23):That is self-explanatory. Bring snacks. Just bring snacks preferably crunchy, chewy ones if your child has any cause. Those are extra regulating, but snacks, snacks, snacks. Don’t leave the house with snacks. If you’ve got I would say any child, but particularly a neuro divergent child because a hangry neurodivergent child is sometimes unmanageable <laugh>. All right, now I’m ending this episode here. I hope that all in all this was helpful. I hope you feel validated. I hope you feel seen. I hope you feel empowered, and I hope you have some successful play dates. I’ll talk to you next week. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider rating it and leaving a review, which helps other parents find me as well. Want to learn more from me. I share tons more over on Instagram at the OT Butterfly. See you next time.