Play is critical to childhood development as it teaches essential social skills such as cooperation, turn-taking, and sharing. It encourages emotional growth, influences personality development, and strengthens cognitive enrichment. Children learn to problem-solve, work with social roles and rules, and exercise their imagination and creativity.
Many autistic children experience the world differently, but play is as vital to their development as any other child. Through play therapy, you can create fun yet purposeful experiences for autistic children, allowing them to develop critical social skills while enjoying fun activities.
Understanding Autism and Play
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects behavior, interaction, and communication. Some children with autism may have difficulty developing skills necessary for social interactions; common symptoms include avoiding eye contact, refusing to share, and not participating in turn-taking.
Children with ASD can have limited play skills; for example, some may engage in repetitive play patterns or play with only a few toys, while others may play with toys in ways neurotypical children would not.
Incorporating Education into Play
Considering the communication and social challenges some children with ASD may need assistance with, there are positive ways to encourage play while incorporating educational and social skills development. These methods include:
Current research supports that video modeling is an effective educational practice for teaching children with ASD constructive play skills, especially as it appeals to their interests and visual strengths. In video modeling, the child watches a video of another child correctly performing a specific skill during play. They can then use the video as a guide to help perform the targeted skill.
Pivotal Response Training
Pivotal response training (PRT) improves the basic principles of behavior modification by using a child’s interests, such as toys, activities, and games, to teach and reinforce positive social interactions, such as verbal exchanges and sharing. PRT can help some children develop successful peer interactions. The child must::
- Be given clear, uninterrupted instructions for play-based tasks;
- Model the targeted play behavior appropriately;
- Be provided with positive reinforcement or rewards for appropriate play immediately.
PRT also provides opportunities for autistic children to learn turn-taking skills with other children and adults.
Promoting Health and Well-Being through Play
Many children with autism have co-morbidities such as mental health conditions. Anxiety, avoidance, overwhelm, and low self-esteem often lead to difficulty managing emotions.. Using play-based intervention to promote well-being in children helps them manage their stress and anxiety through calming techniques.
Teaching a child calming techniques through play allows them to overcome complex social situations and manage their emotions. Physical play provides children with ASD full-body exercise through running, crawling, and jumping. Autistic children benefit significantly from natural outdoor activities, like walks or bike rides on trails. Time in nature is so effective that some doctors are even writing prescriptions for outside time because the mental health benefits are significant. These activities help them strengthen their gross motor skills, such as coordination, agility, and balance.
Aside from physical benefits, active outdoor play lets kids explore their environment while interacting with other children and adults. Activating muscle groups during play provides sensory input, which can also help alleviate stressors and relieve anxiety in children with ASD.
Fostering Developmental Growth through Play
Play-based interventions address specific developmental goals in autistic children and fall into a range of areas, such as:
Sensory play is a valuable method that allows autistic children to explore different sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, strengthening their sensory regulation and integration.
One sensory play idea involves creating a sensory bin and filling it with sand, water beads, or rice. Add objects to the bin for the child to smell and touch, engaging all five senses. This type of play helps ASD kids develop their fine motor skills and engage their senses.
Imaginative play, or pretend play, is an effective means for children with ASD to engage in social interactions, creativity, and language development. Roleplaying is an essential social skills training that allows children to practice what to do in social situations in a safe environment.
Create a play area for your child with costumes and prompts, and let them explore various scenarios and roleplay. House play sets, toy tools, or dress-up clothes are ideal stages. Participating in imaginative play lets children practice problem-solving and social skills and develop empathy.
Social play involves engaging in activities with other children, caregivers, and siblings. This play style helps children strengthen social skills, learn appropriate social behaviors, and develop deeper emotional connections.
Engage your child in group play activities or host a playdate with other children. Use outdoor games, arts and crafts activities, or board and video games to create a safe environment for your autistic child to practice social skills. Games like Animal Crossing, Solitaire, and Monopoly combine social interaction with peers with valuable skills, such as learning about money or achieving goals through cooperation, all enjoyably and playfully.
When children build or make things, they engage in constructive play, which involves producing a product or achieving a goal. This form of play aids in developing children’s motor skills, teaching them to enjoy playing with toys and practicing problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Some excellent toy options for constructive play include building blocks, jigsaw puzzles, or drawing pictures. Constructive play is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate how to achieve a goal to your child. Parents can also incorporate household chores into constructive play, such as creating cleaning games where their children can engage in treasure hunts or a wheel of chores to spark creativity and evoke a sense of responsibility.
Make Play Fun and Educational
ASD can affect a child’s social and communication skills, making social interactions with peers and adults complex. However, when children with autism engage in structured play, they can build their social and motor skills. By creating useful activities based on your child’s needs, interests, and strengths, your child will develop critical social skills while having fun at the same time.
The post Promoting Health and Well-Being in Autistic Children Through Play first appeared on The Mom Kind.