5 Ways to Promote Play Skills in Children with Autism

Playing is a critical part of a child’s development. But some children diagnosed with autism need help learning how to play and interact with others.

Playtime offers many benefits for children on the spectrum, from growing communication and language skills they will need for school to developing critical social skills to navigate adulthood. Children with autism struggle with interactive play for a variety of reasons, and teaching play skills to children with autism helps them to better interact with peers, teachers, and family members.

Here are five autism treatment methods used in therapy programs today that can boost your child’s play skills.

  • Follow the Child’s Lead

You will likely find success engaging with your child if you display interest in the objects or activities they already enjoy. Joint attention activities, where you both play with the same object or attend to the same task, can help improve play skills for a child diagnosed with autism. If your child is already interested in and engaged with a particular toy or game, then join in the activity and follow their lead instead of encouraging them to pursue another activity. Ask your child about the toy or respond to them as they explain the object to you to boost interaction and further model play skills.

  • Take Turns

Tossing or rolling a ball, playing with beanbags, or even doing simple turn-taking activities can help reinforce play skills and help your child better interact with others. Even nonverbal cues can be used to indicate when “it’s my turn” and help your child make the connection between interacting with others and taking turns enjoying an activity together.

  • Model the Speech or Activity Desired

Work with your support team, family members, or other children to model play and turn-taking behavior; children diagnosed with autism can pick up on important play skills by watching others. By modeling the desired behavior, you can help introduce the skill to your child and also encourage them to get involved. If the activity or toy you are using is highly motivating to the child, then getting them to interact with you and the desired object is a good first step in learning even more play skills. If other kids are not available, then watching videos of children at play can help with social skill building and allow your child to become familiar with how kids interact.

  • Support Pretend Play

Pretend play allows children to practice their social skills and have fun at the same time. Children with autism can struggle with pretend play and often play with items in different ways than what they probably were originally intended. If you choose cars or trains, you can model the vehicles driving on a track, stopping for other vehicles, and avoiding accidents. Dolls and action figures can be put to bed, fed play food, and used to model common play scenarios. You might need to break the process down into small steps, but modeling imaginative and pretend play can help your child pick up these valuable skills.

  • Meet With Other Children

While many children diagnosed on the autism spectrum seem to seek out solitary play, taking them to a play group or playground can expose them to a variety of social situations and opportunities. According to experts at Indiana University, offering a variety of integrated play opportunities can help your child get used to playing alongside (called parallel play), and eventually playing with children without disabilities. Since some kids with autism also have motor delays, playing with children who are slightly younger can also make social and interactive play more accessible as your child will be better able to keep up physically.

If you have a child on the spectrum and would like to know more about effective autism treatment methods, contact Integrity, Inc. at 501-406-0442 to learn more about our programs.

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Image licensed via Creative Commons by tup wanders on Flickr

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