Play and children with autism spectrum disorder

Play helps children develop gross and fine motor skills, language and communication skills, thinking and problem-solving skills, and social skills. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can affect how play develops, but there’s a lot you can do to help develop your child’s play skills.

According to koodakpress، Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) enjoy playing, but they can find some types of play difficult. It’s common for them to have very limited play, play with only a few toys, or play in a repetitive way. For example, your child might like spinning the wheels on a car and watching the wheels rotate, or might complete a puzzle in the same order every time.


Because ASD affects the development of social skills and communication skills, it can also affect the development of important play skills, like the ability to:


  • copy simple actions
  • explore the environment
  • share objects and attention with others
  • imagine what other people are thinking and feeling
  • respond to others
  • take turns.


But your child can learn and develop the skills needed for play, and you can help. Playing with your child is also a great way to connect with her at her level.


Types of play skills for children with autism spectrum disorder

Young children engage in six main types of play, which develop in stages. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) might need extra help at each stage.


Exploratory play 
This is when children explore objects and toys, rather than playing with them – for example, feeling a teddy bear, mouthing a block or looking at a doll’s hands. At this stage of play, children are learning about their world through different shapes, colours, sizes and textures.


You can help your child with ASD by modelling this type of play and by encouraging her to explore objects around her. For example, you could encourage her to splash water in the bath and rub soap between her fingers.


Cause-and-effect play 
This is when children play with toys that need an action to produce the desired result – for example, pressing a button to play music, or winding up a jack-in-the-box. This type of play teaches children that their actions have effects and gives them a sense of control in their play.


Your child with ASD might learn to operate toys on his own, through exploratory play, or you might need to show him. Praising your child when he does the right action will encourage him to keep doing it. It will also encourage him to interact with other toys in a cause-and-effect way as well.


This is also a good opportunity to teach your child how to ask you for help, and to play by taking turns. For example, you could take turns pressing a button to make something pop up and take turns pushing it back down again.


Toy play (or ‘functional’ play)
This is learning how to play with and use toys in the way they were designed – for example, pushing a toy car, bringing a toy phone to the ear, or throwing a ball.


If this is an area of challenge for your child with ASD, the following ideas might help:

  • Sit in front of your child so she can look at you, communicate with you, and see what you’re doing. This also makes it easier to engage her in play.
  • Offer two or three toys your child enjoys. This gives your child a choice without overwhelming him.
  • Join in with what your child is doing, rather than trying to guide her play. You can start by copying what your child is doing, then add to the activity. For example, if your child is spinning the wheels of a car, you could spin them too. Then turn the car the right way up and run it along the floor saying, ‘Brrm, brrm’. Or if your child likes opening and closing doors on toys, start with this and then add toy figures walking in the doors.
  • Encourage your child to playif he doesn’t copy you. You could do this by saying, ‘Your turn to drive the car’, taking your child’s hand and placing it on the car, then moving it across the floor together.
  • Reward your child. Use praise and positive feedback like ‘You’ve built a big tower. Good job!’. You could also add other rewards, like a couple of turns of blowing bubbles.
  • Knowing when to stop or change is also important, so look out for signs of boredom or lack of interest.
  • Show your child short videos of people playing. This can give her ideas of what she could do with those toys.
  • Look out for signs that your child is getting bored or losing interest – knowing when to stop or change is important.
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