Play skill developmental milestones

Parents don’t really pay attention to playing.  Playing is more often than not seen as just playing when in fact play skills are a vital part of a child’s development.  Many elements of playing form part of the pre-requisite skills needed for formal learning and young children’s play skills are used in assessments to determine their developmental readiness for school.

An example of this is that a child’s ability to look at an adult closely and his ability to imitate a sound, movement or action will later become a skill that is used in a formal classroom environment.

A lack of play skill or difficulty with playing – at certain ages are the first tell-tale signs of development delays and possible Autism and the reason for this is that children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder don’t  develop play skills and social interaction skills in the same way as neurotypical people do.

Play skill developmental milestones you want to look out for would include aspects like:

  • Does your child look at you and/or does your child make eye contact with you
  • Does your child copy movements?
  • Does your child copy other children or adults?
  • Does your child enjoy simple games like peek-a-boo?
  • Does your child explore new toys when you bring them home and does he/she try to figure out how they work (independently) or do they lose interest in items very quickly?
  • Does your child show an interest in a wide variety of toys or is he/she more focussed on specific items or themes like Thomas the Tank Engine or Winnie the Pooh?
  • Does your child explore new objects with their mouth and with touch?
  • Does your child seek out interactive play with other children and with adults
  • Does your child learn through trial and error?
  • Does your child have the ability to play independently as well as form part of a group or does your child prefer to play alone?
  • Does your child share?
  • Can your child keep themselves entertained?
  • Does your child ask questions?
  • Does your child enjoy building puzzles and solving jigsaw problems?
  • Does your child recognize shapes, letters and colours?
  • Does your child repeat actions that he/she really enjoys doing?
  • Does your child understand that there are “rules to a game” and can he/she abide by the rules?
  • Does your child have imagination when playing like will they pretend that a stick is a magic wand?
  • Does your child play appropriately with toys?
  • Does your child playing co-operative games?

If you feel that any of these skills are lacking in your child’s development then we would suggest that you have a thorough developmental assessment done but know that if these skills are lacking it does not always mean Autism – it could just mean a development delay and therapies can help your child catch up and get ready for school.


Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.