Special Ed teacher develops play date tool for those with autism


Every parent with a child who has autism knows the pains of trying to schedule play dates with other children. And it’s a double-edged sword, to be certain. For while the need to practice social interaction and to develop friendships for the child is high, the anxiety level (particularly for the parent) is often higher still. We need the comfort of knowing that our child will not be teased by his or her “play date” and that the other parent will also understand our child’s unique behaviors. What is needed is a way for parents with children on the spectrum to be able to find and schedule safe, rewarding social encounters.

SpecialPlaydate.com is just such a tool. Free to members, it’s a new online service that’s connecting parents with other parents seeking playdate opportunities for their children with special needs. According to its founder, Jane Hsu, Special Playdate was created based on the simple premise that "every child deserves a friend." A special education teacher working in New York City public schools, Jane saw first-hand the challenges that many of her students and parents faced when trying to make friends. "While parents of typical children spend weekends carting their kids around to activities such as sports practices and play groups, the parents of my students struggle to find places where their kids can fit in and feel welcome," says Jane. "This leaves families feeling alone and isolated from their communities, and often has an impact on kids' self-esteem."

Jane set out to create a secure place online addressing this critical need. Members are able to search for appropriate peers in their local communities, and can also use the private message system to connect with other parents, before scheduling a play date or revealing personal information. Safety guidelines are also provided.

"This is a brilliantly executed website, addressing a fundamental need for children with special needs and their families. Parents will immediately get a good feeling when they visit the site and sign up to join," said Jamie Pagliaro, Founding Executive Director of the NY Center for Autism Charter School and Co-Creator of Rethink Autism.

For Jane, this is just the beginning. She plans to grow Special Playdate.com by continuing to add more tools and resources and has also engaged experts in the field to help create a robust social skills curriculum and launch a social skills group training model, which will be made available to members as an additional service later this year. "We want to offer a place to connect, and the supports to ensure success for our members and their children," says Jane. "If we can be that first step towards creating a lasting friendship, then I'll know we're on the right track!"

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