Play is said to be child’s universal language. It is true though, to certain extent. While most of the children learn to play in a natural way, some children may find it difficult that playing still needed to be taught. This difficulty on playing is quite common for children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Most of them have limited play and plays with only a few toys, or play in a repetitive way. For example, your child might like spinning the wheels on a car and watching the wheels rotate, or might line up toys in the same order every time.
The main reason for this is that ASD effects the development of social skills and communication skills, it can also affect the development of important play skills, like the ability to imitating simple actions, sharing objects and attention with others, imagining what other people are thinking or feeling, responding to others and taking turns. However, your child can learn and develop the skills needed for play, and you can help. Playing with your child is also a great way to connect with her at her level.
Some parents wonders, “How come my child only likes to play with cars?”. It is okay if your child has only a few play interests at the moment. This can actually be a great tool to expand play ideas. For example, if your child enjoy toy cars, you may use it first to introduce the words: READY, STEAY, GO and STOP. You may gradually introduce different play ideas with the same toy car such as parking, travelling around the town, etc
Children engage in different types of play, which develop in stages. Children with ASD might need extra help at each stage. Below are easy wy
Exploratory Play – Children at this stage often explore by using their senses. For example, instead of playing with a bear, children stroke hand on the fur instead. This is the stage where children mouth toys as their way of exploring it. At this stage of play, children are learning about their world through different shapes, colours, sizes and textures.
You can help your child with ASD by encouraging him/her to explore objects around her. Simple sensory play is the best for this stage. For example, you could use water, and encourage your child to splash water in the bath. You may also freeze water and explore ice.
Cause and Effect Play – This kind of play is when children learn that their actions can cause something to happen. A simple example is that when a child presses a button, a light will turn on or when a child pulls a string, an animal will come out. This helps to develop curiosity, shared attention and communication. This type of play give children a sense of control in their play.
You can help your child with ASD through modelling ang through joining his/her play. It is best to praise your child when desired action / play is demonstrated. This will encourage your child to keep doing it. Moreover, this is a good started to teach your child how to ask for help (verbal or non-verbal way) and to play by taking turns.
Functional Play – This type of play is said to be the “typical” or “correct” form of play. Basically this is playing something according to their intended function. For example, ball is for rolling, telephone is for calling, pan is for cooking, etc.
It’s quite common for children with ASD to line up toys or stimming on a certain part of a toy instead of playing according to its function. You can help your child to develop more functional play by doing the following:
• Sit in front of your child, go lower to his/her eye level for betting chances of eye-contact. Once you get the attention, it’s way easier to engage him/her in play.
• Lessen the choices of toy per play. Too much toys can overwhelm your child and might be too distracted.
• Like what is usually done in therapy sessions, join in with what your child is doing, rather than trying to guide her play. You can start by copying what your child is doing, then add to the activity.
• Always praise and reward your child. You could also add other rewards, like a couple of turns of blowing bubbles.
• Be mindful to look out for signs that your child is getting bored or losing interest – knowing when to stop or change is important.
Constructive Play – This is when children use different objects to create or build something. It involves working towards an end goal like completing a jigsaw puzzle or making a tower out of connecting blocks. For children with ASD, some may have delays on this area while some excels at this certain skills which is quite extraordinary.
You can help your child with ASD develop constructive play by showing your child what to do. Step by step instructions helps for better understanding. For some, showing a visual representation of what the final output looks like helps to achieve the desired constructive goal.
Pretend Play – This is when children make use of objects and use their imagination to turn those to something else. This type of play also involves the use of symbols, and we use these symbols to stand for something else. A simple example is using hairbrush as a microphone, or when a child sees the bed as a sailboat surrounded by water. Pretend play happens in a later development as it is the most sophisticated form of play.
For child with ASD, pretend play is often delayed but many children with ASD can and do ultimately develop pretend play.
You can help your child with ASD develop pretend play by engaging them to real-life situations and actions. For example, washing of fruits, wiping of table, pouring of juice – these are simpler or we can say task-analysed steps to help with pretend play.