Playing is such a critical developmental skill in childhood, as kids learn to negotiate, take turns, understand non-verbal communication, use their imagination, and imitate peers, all while playing!
Challenges with Play
However, children on the autism spectrum often appear to have difficulty “playing.” The act of “playing” requires multiple advanced skills in the areas of cognition, interpersonal abilities, and psychomotor skills, which also represent some of the hallmarks of autism spectrum deficits. Additionally, researchers estimate that 45 to 96% of children on the spectrum have challenges with processing sensory stimuli (Ben-Sasson et al., 2009; Lane et al., 2010). This can lead to many challenges, including trouble with finding activities to play in leisure time as the choices can be too overwhelming. Therefore, creating some structure to help your child with ASD learn how to play functionally can have huge benefits!
Tips for Play
- Find a balance between total free play and highly structured play.
- Ensure you have their motivation!
- If your child loves cars but you want them to play with balls and they have no interest in balls, you should start playing cars with them! You can then bring in others toys but if your child isn’t interested, it won’t go well.
- Start small with the goal of increasing their engagement and time playing with a toy/game/activity
- If the goal is for your child to play cooperatively with a toy for 2 minutes, start by focusing on taking only 1 turn each with the toy and provide lots of praise for taking the turn. You can build up to your goal.
- Start with skills and interests they already have and build on those, such as exciting cause and effect play or sensory related games
- The activity should be perceived as fun, not too difficult or long
- Don’t start off with trying to teach them a 100 piece puzzle when they don’t like puzzles or only put together 5 piece puzzles
- Break the activity into smaller parts for easier mastery, then build on the activity
- Provide plenty of reinforcement!
- Use language-rich activities, narrate their play
- Label/narrate everything they are doing with a positive tone and excitement
- “Wow, you are rolling the blue ball down the ramp!”
Remember, increased enjoyment leads to increased engagement and learning!
By: Dr. Shelly Wold, BCBA, Executive Director of Positive Pathways LLC
Link to article cited here