Kids with autism spectrum disorder tend to have play patterns that they repeat over and over.  Her favorite character from Netflix?  It’s the only one she’ll play with.  His cars that he seems to adore?  He only wants to line them up again and again.  Children on the autism spectrum tend to engage in stereotyped, restricted, scripted, and solo play.  So how do we guide children to expand these play patterns so they can learn and grow?  Here are seven things to try.

 

 1. Tap into their interests.

 

Take some time to intentionally observe the child at play.  What do they enjoy?  What gets them excited?  You’ll want to have a solid idea so that when you offer opportunities to extend their play, they’ll accept due to their peaked interest.

 

2. Look closely at the ‘how.’

 

You likely have an idea of your child’s interests, so now look closer at how they engage with their play interests.  Think about what kind of play the child gravitates toward.  Some kids enjoy visual stimulation and can be found spinning tops or bringing toys close to their eyes so they can inspect them more clearly.  Others like to bang toys together to create sound or feel various textures.  Take note and inspiration from how your child engages.

 

3. Provide structure.

 

Many children with ASD have difficulty with the open-ended nature of play.  Slowly and gradually provide strategies to give activities more form.  If they enjoy lining up cars, use tape to make parking spots and demonstrate parking the vehicles.  This will take some time and patience, but they’re much more likely to engage when you use this strategy alongside the child’s interests.  Other ways to add structure include:

 

        Practicing taking turns

        Modeling play

       Using a visual schedule

       Adding more steps to a play routine

 

4. Be present.

 

While adding structure can be a great way to learn and grow, be sure to follow your child’s lead during play.  It is a delicate balance.  However, creating these learning opportunities on the spot is beneficial to their learning and eagerness to try something different playfully.

 

5. Identify their strengths.

 

These are unique for each child with and without an ASD diagnosis.  Some children excel at math, and others are very caring toward animals.  When you offer play opportunities, tap into your child’s strength.  For example, the child who loves animals and math may be interested in counting and feeding the animals in a barnyard toy.

 

5. Reinforce.

 

Provide positive reinforcement when your child tries something new during playtime.  Even simply reminding the child, “I enjoy playing with you!” can reframe their perception of play.

 

7. Address toy clutter.

 

The environment around the child impacts their success with play.  When toys are disorganized, are placed on open shelves, or too many options are available, the child is more likely to flutter from activity to activity without meaningful play.  Offer limited and versatile options for a more profound play experience.

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