Playing Together; Using Play to Promote Engagement with Your Child on the Autism Spectrum

Play is a big part of child development. It is where social skills and language can be learned. Self- esteem and friendships are created. Cognitive development, emotional skills, and creativity are grown. Also, it is a time when relationships with caregivers and parents can be enriched.

For a typically developing child, play comes as a natural part of life. Many children with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis need more encouragement and reinforcement during playtime to develop skills.

The use of repetitive actions during play or not using much symbolic play is common with a child who has an autism diagnosis. Sometimes it is difficult to know how to play with your child because of the type of play they use.

Many times, when parents play with their child, who has an autism diagnosis, it becomes more directive and less child led. Learning the right tools, can help you understand how to play alongside your child to promote engagement of interactions and help respond to challenging behaviors.

In the attached video from there are five tips to help parents share engagement of play with their child and create a space for learning.

  1. Notice what your child is interested in. Following your child’s lead and playing with their interests is a great way to set the stage for engagement of play.
  2. Remove distractions and make a safe place to interact. Creating an area where you can focus on one toy at a time can help your child stay focused on the item you are playing with together. Also removing adult distractions, such as phones, helps makes sure you are ready to engage with your child and shows them you are all about them in that moment. Clearing items away is also important in making sure the area safe.
  3. Be in front of your child and at eye level.  You want to make sure your child sees you while you are playing. Being at eye level is important because you want your child to feel comfortable playing with you. If you were to be standing while they are seated on the floor you can look as though you are towering over them which can be distracting to them or even intimidating.
  4. Praise your child and be specific about what they are doing that is good. You always want your child to know when they are doing a good job. You want to be specific because they may not know what they did that was worthy of praise. Once they understand what they did that you were proud of it is more likely they will do that action or behavior again.
  5. Take turns imitating what your child is doing. This shows you are interacting with your child and they can see you are paying attention to what they are doing. You can even take this a step further and show them more actions so they can learn other ways to play.

Play is a great way to interact and gain developmental skills. When children are playing, they do not always know that they are learning and enriching their brains at the same time.  Make the interactions fun and talk with your child during play. When they hear what you are doing you can promote language and responses.

As a parent or caregiver, play can be great for you too. It gives you time to build your relationship and have some fun with your child. There is no wrong way to play. So go ahead, get on the floor and start having some fun!