How to Help Children with Autism Develop Play Skills
Updated: May 30
Children with autism play differently than those who don’t. Often, they exhibit a preference for playing alone, and a degree of unwillingness to understand or follow the basic rules of shared play. While most children enjoy symbolic or imaginative play with toys and games, you’ll often find that your autistic child much prefers simply observing objects and arranging and re-arranging them over and over again. You’ll also likely notice that your child with autism may engage in activities that seem purposeless to you, such as repeatedly opening and closing the doors or flushing the toilet for no apparent reason.
These are all forms of autistic play in children. Though they do derive fulfillment from involving themselves in these acts, it is also important that they develop the play skills needed for them to engage in other forms of play and play with other children and adults as well.
Importance of Imparting Play Skills to Children with Autism
Active play is an important part of any child’s development. Most orthodox forms of play help build fine and gross motor skills as well as social skills, communication skills, language skills, and problem-solving capabilities. It is thus important that children with autism are given the means to expand their limited play in order to enjoy these benefits.
The ability to engage in play can also help autistic children feel less alienated, and even help them build meaningful relationships with both family and newfound friends. But how can you get your autistic child to develop play skills?
How to Help Your Autistic Child Develop Play Skills
Children with autism can pick up the play skills they need with some guidance and structured play. Parents looking to facilitate this can send their child to children therapy programmes that impart functional play skills through their early intervention school’s curriculum. At home, parents should also encourage their autistic child to play together with them if possible. This may be difficult at first, but can work miracles when done diligently.
The most important part of getting your autistic child to play with you is developing and expressing joint attention while respecting their space. This refers to both you and your child fixating your attention on a common activity, and experiencing the same awareness and reactions entailed by having more than one party involved in the activity. Joint play can, however, cause feelings of anxiety and stress in children with autism, so be sure to take it slow and always be patient.
Here are three easy ways you can get started in helping your autistic child develop play skills at home:
Encourage your child to constantly explore their surroundings through the objects around them. This nurtures exploratory play skills in autistic children, and allows them to learn about their world through their active discovery of different shapes, colours, textures, and sizes. It doesn’t have to be complicated either — simply feeling a teddy bear or looking at a doll house will suffice.
Many parents with autistic children ask themselves if their children will ever willingly play with them. And the answer is a resounding “yes”, followed by a just-as-important “if”. Most autistic children have no qualms with engaging in play with their parents if it is structured to be undaunting and fun for themselves.
One easy method many start off with is by simply taking turns pressing a button and making something pop up whenever the button has been pressed. This little game is designed to be easy, and teaches autistic children that their actions have effects. While helping them develop a stress of control, this play method also nurtures cause-and-effect play skills in autistic children.
Play with Toys Together
As previously mentioned, autistic children tend not to interact with toys in the ways other children do. Though this is not a cause for worry in itself, it also means that your child misses out on the thinking, problem-solving, and creative skills they can develop through playing with toys the way they were designed for — such as pushing a toy car or bouncing a ball.
Here’s how you can engage in toy play with your autistic child:
Position yourself where your child can look at what you are doing and easily communicate with you.
Offer them a few toys that they seem to enjoy, such that they are given a choice on what to play with but are not overwhelmed with too many of them to pick from.
Let your child take the lead at first. For example, if they spin the wheels of a toy car, give them a spin yourself.
Only after you’ve mimicked their actions, proceed to demonstrate the proper way of playing with the chosen toy; for the above example, that means turning the car the right way up and running it along the floor.
Encourage your autistic child to copy your actions. Do this by providing guidance and instruction through prompts, such as mentioning that it’s now their turn to drive the toy car and guiding their hands to move the car across the floor together.
Always reward your child through praise and positive feedback; the mere mentioning that they did a great job can do wonders for children with autism.
Get Help at MindChamps Allied Care
At MindChamps Allied Care, we offer occupational therapy, speech therapy, and educational therapy for the children who need it. We also have child psychology services, early intervention programmes, and group classes to cater to each and every nuanced need you or your child may have specifically.
Book an appointment with us and empower your child to overcome any developmental gaps through our evidence-based practices for improved therapy outcomes in Singapore. Find a MindChamps Allied Care Centre near you today.