“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” the old saying goes. If your child happens to have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), that saying goes double for him or her. Playtime is crucial to stimulating the social, physical and mental development of children with ASD. Connecting in such a way with a child with ASD may seem challenging, but it doesn’t have to be! There are many deceptively easy tricks you can use to help stimulate your child’s development through play, including the following:
Limit Familiar Toys and Props
When parents see their children with ASD playing obsessively with certain toys, their first instinct is often to try to play along with them using said toys. However, this can be a challenge at times. Children with ASD tend to have very specific routines and habits when it comes to using their toys, and unless you can tap into their thoughts (scientifically impossible as of the posting of this blog) you may find it difficult to play with their toys the “right” way, as the child sees it. To avoid conflicts, use novel toys or games – such as Chase, tickle games (assuming your child likes these), or Hide and Seek – can be a great way to help your child build his or her play skills and connect with them in a way that is fun for both of you.
Maintaining Eye Level
This tip does not necessarily have to include eye contact, as most children with ASD tend not make direct eye contact anyway. What this tip does require is for your face to be clearly visible to your child at all times. This may require you to kneel, squat or even lie down, but your devotion to this can help your child pick up on certain facial expressions and start to associate them with corresponding emotions.
Make Mistakes and Be Absurd
Lack of attention is often a major concern in children with ASD, but this unlikely trick is a great step in the right direction! Being absurd and using things in unusual ways at unpredictable times can greatly help catch your child’s attention and hone his or her ability to notice what’s happening around him or her. This is an invaluable skill with countless applications in life. Try putting on a bowl instead of a hat when you are getting ready to go out and wait to see your child’s reaction when he or she notices. You could also put your socks on your hands and gloves on your feet, put your jacket on backwards or anything else you think your child may notice. As an added bonus, laugh at the mistake with your child when he or she notices, and correct it with him or her watching – this will exemplify that mistakes happen, and they can be fixed when they do.
If you would like to learn more about helping children with ASD through play, be sure to register for The Spiral Foundation’s next webinar, Promoting Play Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, on Monday, February 10, 2014. Our very own Sarah Friel, MA, SLP-CCC will be sharing vital information on this timely topic, drawn from her 23 years of experience helping children with ASD. Plus, you can earn contact hours! For more information on our other course offerings, reach out to us at (617) 969-4410 ext 231 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
These tips are also beneficial for teaching social and pretend play. Pair social and pretend play with fun things! Model these behaviors and be sure to reinforce with established fun activities when the child emits any of these appropriate skills. Siblings can be an essential part of the modeling process and can help deliver reinforcing items and activities as well.