My 3-1/2-year-old son seems preoccupied with throwing and dumping things. His play seems limited and atypical. I would not say that he is obsessed with one topic or subject to the exclusion of others but just generally his play seems shallow or does not have much purpose. He is not around other children his age much but when he is, he still does not interact with them. I realize this is fairly normal at this age. But, for example, when we go to a playgroup at the park, my son is content playing with the wood chips at the park instead of the playground equipment or even trying what the other kids are doing. When we are there without other kids, he will try some of the playground equipment. We live in a small town where there are no pediatricians and only family doctors. Should I seek out a pediatrician over an hour away for further evaluation?
Developmentally most children by age 3.5 have moved from parallel play to cooperative/interactional play with same age peers and children 3-4 years old (unlike 2 year olds) should be showing active interest in engaging with other children. From your description, it does sound like your son has limited social skills and functional play for his age.
Some Red Flags for social/emotional/cognitive development at age 3-4 include: (1) No initiation of interaction with same age peers; (2) No pretend play skills; (3) Inability to play games with other children and agree to rules; (4) Limited functional play with toys (i.e., instead of putting pieces in a puzzle, repeatedly dumping, scattering or lining up pieces); (5) No interest in spontaneous singing, dancing or acting out scenarios; (6)Lack of imitation skills. I would definitely suggest consulting with a developmental pediatrician, but you might want to go ahead and first contact this Early Intervention service provider in your area for a free screening to determine if your son is indeed showing a developmental delay.
Early Intervention services are typically 0-3 and then 3-5. It is better to seek help for your son now rather than waiting until he is kindergarten age. The website link I listed states “Parents of children with difficulties in one or more of the areas of vision, hearing, speech, language, movement, thinking, learning, or self help skills are encouraged to contact the Region IX Child Find office. A free developmental screening is available in any of these developmental areas and children are not required to be of school age to qualify for these services.”