A child’s ability to initiate and sustain play interactions with peers not only promotes their engagement and learning, but also serves as a precursor for their participation in future educational environments. Children with autism often display restricted play skills, preventing them from successfully participating in inclusive environments.
Play gives children the opportunity to develop their imagination, dexterity, motor, cognitive, language, and social -emotional abilities (Ginsburg 2007). A child’s ability to initiate and sustain play interactions with peers not only promotes their engagement and learning, but also serves as a precursor for their participation in future educational environments. Children with autism often display restricted play skills, preventing them from successfully participating in inclusive environments (Morrison, Sainato, Ben Chaaban, & Endo, 2002). Deficits in symbolic or imaginative play must be addressed through well planned, intentional, early interventions to ensure that children with autism benefit from quality play experiences.
Video Modeling: Video modeling is a teaching technique where a child watches a videotaped demonstration of a skill or activity and then imitates the behavior of the model. When implementing video modeling to teach play skills, consider taping an interaction between two peers playing with a toy (D’Ateno, Mangiapanello, & Taylor, 2003). Keep the interaction simple, focusing on just two to three verbal exchanges of information about the toy. Allow the child with autism to view the video several times and then set the occasion for the interaction to occur again with the same toy, this time including the child with autism. Use the verbal exchanges that occurred in the video as a script to prompt the child to make appropriate play commentary.
Activity Schedules: Visual schedules are commonly used to guide a child with autism through their daily schedule. Consider using a shorter version to guide a child through a play sequence. Use digital pictures of specific toys or areas of the classroom to encourage a child to explore and interact with items not typically chosen for play. A few pictures of different toys or classmates faces, arranged left to right, communicates a play schedule that the child follows just as they do their daily visual schedule. A similar procedure can be followed to facilitate pretend play by taking pictures of play action steps. For example, a picture of an empty truck followed by the same truck filled with blocks, then the blocks being used to build a tower , can show the child how to pretend to be a community helper. Be sure to use preferred toys (see previous article).
Imitation: Dana Childress, Program Specialist in Early Intervention at the Partnership for People with Disabilities, shares this idea for engaging young children with autism. (See the Learning Opportunity below for information on Dana’s upcoming workshop.)
Teach imitation and turn taking to build social awareness and learning
- Start by imitating the child’s movements, activities, and vocalizations to enter his play.
- Imitate without the expectation that he has to do something in return.
- When all else fails, imitate!
- Turn imitation into turn-taking by assuming that it is “my turn”.
- Closely observe the child and accept any interaction as the child’s “turn”.
- Wait for the child to take his turn before play can continue.
Resources: T-TAC Library
- You‘re Going to Love This Kid!: Teaching Children with Autism in the Inclusive Classroom (Kluth, 2003)
- The Social Skills Picture Book: Teaching Play, Emotion, and Communication to Children with Autism (Baker, 2003)
- Embracing Play: Teaching your Child with Autism (Behavioral Intervention Association, 2006)
D’Ateno, P., Mangiapanello, K., & Taylor, B. (2003). Using video modeling to teach complex play sequences to a preschooler with autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 5, 5-11.
Ginsburg, K.R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191.
Morrison, R.S., Sainato, D.M., Ben Chaaban, D., & Endo, S. (2002). Increasing play skills of children with autism using activity schedules and correspondence training. Journal of Early Intervention, 25, 58-72.