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Play in Autism: 6 Reasons to Promote Play Skills and How to Do It

Play in Autism: 6 Reasons to Promote Play Skills and How to Do It

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Do kids with autism like playing?

Play is a fundamental activity in any child’s life, but how does it manifest itself in those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? For many parents and caregivers, understanding how play develops in children with ASD can be challenging. Do kids with autism like playing?

Indeed, play in autism can significantly differ from that of their neurotypical peers. These differences can range from more repetitive play patterns to difficulties with imaginative play or, in some cases, a complete absence of interest in play. However, it’s crucial to recognize that play serves as an invaluable tool for bolstering communication skills and promoting cognitive, social, emotional, and relational development in all children, irrespective of their condition.

While the variances in play among children with autism can be due to the social communication and sensory processing challenges inherent to the condition, there are effective strategies parents and caregivers can employ to promote play in their children. By acknowledging each child’s unique preferences and needs, one can encourage meaningful play skills and unlock the numerous advantages of this activity.

In this ABA Centers of Pennsylvania blog, we aim to illuminate the benefits of play in autism and demonstrate how ABA therapy can serve as a powerful therapeutic approach to enhance essential skills through play. Additionally, we will offer practical strategies that parents and caregivers can seamlessly integrate at home to support the development of play in their loved ones with autism.

How Does Play in Autism Look Like?

According to the World Journal of Clinical Pediatrics, play enhances a wide range of skills in children, including negotiation, problem-solving, manual dexterity, sharing, decision-making, and group work. This activity influences all areas, structures, and functions of the brain. However, children with autism often face limitations in adaptive behavior and social interaction, which can significantly impact play in autism.

How Does Play in Autism Look Like?

Play in children with autism may be restricted in various ways. For instance, some children may prefer solitary play and engage in repetitive activities such as moving an object from one point to another repeatedly, lining up toys, or persistently playing with the same item. The nature of play in autism can be profoundly influenced by how a child processes sensory information, relates to others, and enjoys their environment.

For many children with autism, play transcends its mere recreational nature and becomes an essential tool for developing new skills and building meaningful connections to the world around them.

6 Reasons to Promote Play Skills in Children with Autism

1. Strengthen Social Skills:

Play in autism provides a natural environment where children can enhance their social skills through interactions with others. During these engagements, they learn essential concepts of communication, negotiation, empathy, cooperation, turn-taking, and relationship-building. 

2. Improve Communication:

Children with autism often face communication challenges. However, engaging in pretend play or group activities can promote language development. Through play, children with autism can enhance their language skills and find alternatives to express their needs, thoughts, and emotions.

3. Stimulate Cognitive Development:

Play activities, such as puzzles, sensory play, and pretend play, can bolster problem-solving abilities, spatial awareness, and overall cognitive growth. These games provide children with opportunities to confront challenges requiring quick thinking and decision-making, translating into real-life applicable skills.

4. Encourage Imagination and Creativity:

At the heart of play, imagination, and creativity thrive because when children engage in playful activities, they are actively enhancing their imaginative skills. These abilities not only foster self-expression but also lay the groundwork for abstract thinking.

5. Emotional Regulation Support:

Many children with autism encounter challenges in regulating their emotions. Play in autism can offer a constructive avenue for expressing and managing these emotions. Through play activities, children have the chance to explore and comprehend different emotions, learn about cause-and-effect relationships, and develop effective coping mechanisms.

6. Sensory Stimulation:

Play that integrates sensory activities, such as swinging, jumping, and handling materials with diverse textures and colors, can be particularly beneficial for children with autism. These sensory experiences aid in the integration of sensory information and promote self-regulation, offering children a greater sense of comfort in their surroundings. Furthermore, with the increasing acceptance of autism in various places, children can explore a wide range of sensory-friendly activities when they visit Philadelphia.

How Can Parents Encourage Play in Autism?

Parents and caregivers possess a deep understanding of the qualities, preferences, and needs of their loved ones with autism. This understanding allows them to tailor support strategies and enhance their effectiveness. To create a playful and welcoming environment that promotes play in autism, here are some recommendations:

  1. Create a Friendly Environment: Designating a playroom at home for your child with autism can provide a safe and cozy room where they can play freely. Including their favorite toys, materials, and books in this space will stimulate their interest and encourage exploration. Ensure this space meets your child’s needs, such as dim lighting, minimal noise, and a comfortable temperature to enhance the role of play in autism.
  2. Observe Your Child: Understanding your child’s interests and preferences is crucial for incorporating them into play activities. For instance, if your child loves superheroes, you could set up a cityscape in need of rescue using the toys, puzzles, and costumes of their favorite characters. This approach tailors play in autism to your child’s passions, enriching their engagement.
  3. Provide Versatile Toys: Offering toys and materials that your child can use in various ways, such as blocks, play dough, and art supplies, stimulates imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills. These tools allow for a wide range of expression and exploration.
  4. Play with Your Child: Engaging in play activities with your child is an excellent way to foster communication, interaction skills, and a stronger bond. It’s vital to allow your child to take the lead and adapt to their rules; for example, specific rules may apply during autism play, such as keeping toys stationary or maintaining the order of blocks.
  5. Organize Playdates: Arranging playdates with other children offers opportunities for social interactions and cooperative play, which are critical aspects to support social development.
  6. Be Compassionate and Flexible: Remember, playing is a natural process of learning and development that should be enjoyable and relaxing. It is crucial to adjust to your child’s pace and interests while being flexible and willing to learn from their needs and preferences.
  7. Provide Support with Play Therapy: Integrating autism and play therapy can significantly promote skills in areas where children with autism often face challenges. If introducing play to your child with autism seems daunting, seeking support from ABA therapists is a beneficial strategy. These professionals can not only help reduce challenging behaviors associated with autism but also develop essential skills, positive behaviors, and coping mechanisms for the child. Simultaneously, parents can learn strategies to encourage professionally guided play activities, enhancing the therapeutic value of play in autism.

ABA Therapy for Play Skills in Autism

ABA Therapy is a therapeutic approach that experts in behavior and autism specifically designed for individuals diagnosed with ASD. This method focuses on understanding children’s challenging behaviors, including their causes, to address and provide solutions that improve these behaviors through skills development, coping mechanisms, and alternatives. It proves particularly beneficial for neurodiverse individuals by enabling them to thrive in their daily environments, enhancing their development, establishing routines, and improving their academic performance, among other aspects of their lives.

ABA therapists are professionals certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, equipped to develop tailored therapy plans for each client. These plans address the individual’s needs and goals and utilize techniques and methods focused on play, progress, task simplification, and fun. For instance, therapists can teach children the skill of taking turns through engaging in turn-taking games.

ABA Centers of Pennsylvania Supports Children with Autism Development

The belief that children with autism cannot engage in the same activities as neurotypical children, such as play, is a common misconception. It’s essential to understand that while caregivers and educators might approach these activities differently, it doesn’t mean that children on the spectrum are unable to participate in childhood activities. 

Although play in autism may present challenges that necessitate additional support, caregivers must address it to ensure their loved one’s comprehensive development and learning and the strengthening of crucial skills for future success. ABA Centers of Pennsylvania assists you in this endeavor.

We are experts in autism care services, encompassing everything from diagnosis and early intervention to providing ABA therapy in both home and clinic environments. Whether you live in King of Prussia or Philadelphia, we are just a phone call away. Dial (844) 444-7496 to speak with an ABA care expert or to schedule a free consultation. Combining autism and play therapy can be an effective strategy to achieve your child’s developmental milestones!

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