Playing by No One Else's Rules
Given the difficulty your child may have with the games children play, he might quite understandably decide to either play alone or to organize elaborate games that fit into his particular comfort zones and strengths. Or he may bring his own set of strategies to his peers' games and be accused of cheating.
He may try to keep things in his sensory comfort zone by being bossy and controlling, or he may withdraw from the whole complicated process of dealing with other children and go into a fantasy game of his own.
Your child's play skills may be delayed by motor planning problems, and he may still be in a phase of parallel play — when kids do their own thing when playing together — while his peers have moved on to more collaborative games. If he has problems processing auditory information, he may have trouble following the sometimes involved rules that other kids spell out for playing their games. If it's visual information he has trouble with, some board games may be difficult to follow.
All these factors may make your child feel that doing things other people's way is too unrewarding to bother with.
A Different Playtime Drummer
Kids gravitate to the sort of play that best suits their developmental and sensory abilities. Even children without problems severe enough to be identified as sensory integration disorder prefer certain types of activity to others.
Generally boys prefer rambunctious play and girls prefer play that is more oriented to social role-playing, but you most likely know girls who are tomboys and boys who prefer creative play. Other children may not react as strongly to play that's outside their preferences as your child does, but given a choice, they'll pick what suits them. Give your child the freedom to do that as well.
Plan for success when your child has friends over. Talk to your child about what he might like to do and what he doesn't want to do. If he has toys he does not want to share, put them away so there will be no conflicts. Settling these things in advance ensures a peaceful play date.
You can still help your child socialize by creating opportunities for play with one or two other children. Children without sensory integration problems may be more able and willing to adjust their play styles to your child's than she will be able to adjust to theirs.
Creating small group situations, planning activities that all the children will enjoy, and supervising play so that your child can comfortably participate will help your child have some positive experiences of friendship and socialization. As playing with others becomes less stressful and her sensory abilities improve with therapy, your child may be able to branch out and play more collaboratively.
Teach Your Children Well
You can purchase special card-holders to make it easier for your child to handle a hand of cards. Many retailers offer a round plastic disk to insert cards into, making them easier to hold onto. Innovative versions can also be ordered from Einstein Design or Life with Ease.
On the other hand, if your child seems to want to play like other kids but just can't figure out how, practicing with her may be a good solution. Play board games with her to teach things like taking turns, the right direction to move around a board, moving her piece without knocking over the others, accepting setbacks with grace, rolling dice, and all those other mechanics of game playing that you probably take for granted. Play card games to help your child practice holding cards without dropping them or pulling too many out at a time.
Muscle tone, motor planning, tactile, and visual difficulties can all make game playing a much more involved process for your child than you realize. Therapy will help, but explaining and practicing the immediate skills involved will be necessary, too.
You may also need to practice games like hide-and-seek, jump rope, and hopscotch with your child. He may not understand the rules of playing house or other social role-playing activities that other kids enjoy. It may be hard for him to adapt to other kids' ideas and scenarios when he's carefully planned out his own.
Playing these games with your child — with sensitivity to his needs and difficulties, but an understanding of what other children will be expecting of him — can gently lead him to a greater understanding of how to interact with others and the ability to do so. If nothing else, he'll enjoy having your undivided attention.