Let's Play - Tips For Playtime with Kids on the Autism Spectrum

November 14, 2019

Does your child struggle with typical play time activities? Many families find it difficult to identify games and activities for their child to play with that they will actually attend to and use for an extended period of time. Many children on the spectrum have fixated interests that may make it somewhat challenging to expand their play-based activities. Hopefully, with some of these tips, we can help make downtime for your child both productive and FUN!

Preferences. Pick activities and toys that have your child’s favorite character on them. Does your child love Thomas the Train? With a quick search on Amazon.com for “Thomas the train activities,” an entire subset of activities are available that are all within that theme. Puzzles, word searches, magnet books, train sets, crayons, cups, plates…you name it! Use your child’s preferences to try and expand their play options. If it’s something new to them, having that familiar or even LOVED picture of their beloved Thomas already makes that new thing more fun to them, and that’s a great place to start! If your kiddo absolutely LOVES the color red, get a whole bunch of items that are all red. Does your child LOVE to play dress up? Get dressed up with them and have different accessories that go along with different games.

Language. Playtime is a perfect opportunity to model language for your learner. Whether they use their words with speech, pictures, signs, gestures or eye contact, the more opportunities you can provide them to even hear how you talk about what they’re doing and what they’re playing with the better! This kind of engagement also makes playtime much more FUN! Follow their lead and show them how much FUN they can really have!

Active participant. One of the first things I talk to families about when they want to work on play skills with their kiddos is the way they physically arrange themselves in the room with their child/children. When I do observations, one of the most common things I see is a kiddo in his play area doing their thing while the play partner (sibling/parent/babysitter) is watching them from across the room. Now, if the goal is independent play, then no worries, BUT I prefer to challenge those play partners to make a simple change that often makes the biggest difference in the amount of interaction I see. Place yourself ACROSS from your kiddo rather than always being right next to or behind them. This setup allows for the child to see and watch what you’re doing so much better! Almost immediately eye contact goes up, and I see an observable increase in the amount of interaction the play partner does with the child simply by making this physical change.

YOU got this! Set small achievable goals and expectations for what you want playtime to look like for you and your learner. If your kiddo really isn’t the type who likes to play WITH people, start small! Insert yourself into their playtime for short bursts of time and then give them time to do their thing, all with the goal of increasing how long your time with them is. Don’t get down on yourself if it doesn’t go perfectly the first time (or even the 100th time) you try it or if your kiddo doesn’t seem to care that you are suddenly on the floor with them. YOU are your kiddos first teacher and YOU are an essential aspect of your child’s play time.

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