Whilst we all love seeing children play and while play is a critically important part of any child’s development, children with autism can have significant difficulties with play.
Addressing the challenges your autistic child has with play can have a significant impact on their development. Play helps promote speech development in children with autism as well as their social skills. It helps children build creativity and imagination and so many other core skills they will need when entering the academic phase of their lives.
By disguising learning with play – in other words by encouraging children to learn through “meaningful play” – we can also improve the following skills:
- Gross motor;
- Fine motor planning;
- Sensory profile;
- Creativity and group participation
Play can happen spontaneously and in a non-direct way. It can be unstructured and a spur of the moment event. During these play times children are not really guided. Fewer boundaries are put on them and they can explore at their own pace.
Then there will be times where you must plan your play sessions with your child. Planned or directed play is the total opposite of free play. It is a time where you “teach” the child new skills. You need to guide your child during these sessions.
Guided play must be planned around the child’s difficulties for example:
- If the child is struggling to hold a pen or pencil or to draw – you will play with stickers, tweezers, beads and other fine motor toys to help strengthen those muscles. You won’t give the child a worksheet to complete or a picture to colour in! By given a worksheet you are “learning” but by playing with stickers or beads and tweezers you are playing and the child will be more likely to engage in the sessions.
- Mouthing in autism is a big problem for young children so plan your play time accordingly in other words if you can help the child understand the mechanics of the toy they want to put in their mouth they will in time rather play with the toy – then put it in their mouth.
- Dealing with a non-verbal autistic child will mean you need to have visuals available to aid communication. Pictures that you can point to and guide the child to point to will lead to them answering the question by pointing to the answers. Early Picture Communication can also help with vocabulary development later in the child’s development.
You should never forget how important your role as the parent is in the education and development of the autistic child’s skills. Not only do you need to be an active participant in the “play therapy’ sessions at home but you need to learn everything there is about autism to ensure you understand that parenting an autistic child is about progress, not about so-called perfection!
Amazing K is a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. We are a private autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 years. Our learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. We offer Individualized Education Programs involved, ABA, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum. Read more about this Johannesburg Autism School here.