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  • Zephyr Behavioral Healthcare

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

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5 Steps to Expanding Play in Children with Autism

The first step to expanding play in children with autism is to expand our own definition of what play is. What society views as appropriate play may not be fun or interesting for every child. Some children may like to understand how a toy works rather than playing with the toy as it was intended to be played with. Some children may like to see a toy move in a unique way, while others may find one particular noise that a toy makes really funny or enjoyable, and want to hear it over and over.

Leisure skills are important though, as they help children explore and learn from their environment, and develop their own interests and personality. Here are some tips for expanding play in children with autism to teach a variety of different play and leisure skills.

Step 1: Identify what the child is already interested in

  • E.g. Trucks, lights, music, a particular character, silly noises, spinning objects

Step 2: Play with the child with whatever they are already interested in

  • Make the toy better because you are there - Make up a silly story line for the toy, spin something faster, sing a preferred song, make funny noises

  • Build relationship and rapport through engaging with whatever the child already likes. Approach this step with an open mind and with intentions to understand how the child thinks.

Step 3: Identify the next step for play

  • Potential goals for play - Playing with a variety of different toys, playing with a toy in a new way, playing in a more advanced way (trying cause and effect play, sensory play, constructive play, pretend play)

Step 4: Pair what the child is already interested in with a new form of play. Here are some examples:

  • If a child loves silly noises, when playing with Potato Head, make a silly noise for each body part. Then maybe Potato Head starts making silly noises once he has all his body parts!

  • If a child loves one particular toy that spins, find a variety of different spinning toys, and play with them all together. Then start to play with the new ones by themselves

  • If a child loves Paw Patrol, find a Paw Patrol book to read. If they like the book, try a “First, Then” statement to first read a different book, then read Paw Patrol book.

  • If a child loves cause and effect play (pushing a button to see something pop, rolling a ball down a spinning ramp, etc.) find a way to pair cause and effect play with new toys. For example, find a toy toaster that pops toast out super high, and play with it in the pretend kitchen. Expand kitchen play from there

Step 5: Continue to assess small ways that you can pair existing preferred play with new forms of play. The ultimate success is when the child starts to request to play with the new form of play that you have offered!

Always remember that play should be FUN. If you find yourself starting to give instructions to the child during play, and play becomes more work than fun, it’s time to reassess how to get back to finding joy in play. It's not a bad thing to have to move back and forth between these steps as play develops.


Featured toy!

Check out these personalized blocks that you can customize with your own photos. These are great for children who love to look at photos of family members, or other favorite images that might make play with blocks more fun and interesting.


Teaching Tip

We created the roadmap below to outline some of the key skills that help children succeed in a group environment like preschool or kindergarten. Stay tuned for more information about important foundational skills!


Upcoming adaptive events around Massachusetts!

Adaptive Aquatics - All ages! Located in Springfield, MA. Sept. 5 - Dec. 19 2021

SensiPlay Sensory Groups - Ages 4-10. Located in Springfield, MA. Sept. 9 - Nov. 18 2021

Adaptive Dance & Movement - Ages 4-22. Located in Chicopee, MA. Sept. 16 2021 - June 16 2022

Adaptive Climbing - All ages! Located in Hadley, MA. Sept. 20, 2021

Adaptive Basketball - Grades K - 2. Located in Springfield, MA. Oct. 4 - Dec. 6 2021

Inclusive Creative Art Class - Grades K - 5. Located in Springfield, MA. Oct. 5 - Nov. 5 2021

Inclusive Outdoor Exploration Class - Grades K - 5. Located in Springfield, MA. Oct. 6 - Dec. 1 2021.

Inclusive Soccer Stars - Grades K - 2. Located in Springfield, MA. Oct. 6 - Dec. 1 2021.

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