Part 1 – Why ‘Play’ is SO Important for Children with Autism

Monique Simpson

One thing that you need to understand is how important PLAY is for the thinking, language, emotional, problem solving and creative skills development of children with autism. So many people underestimate the importance of PLAY.

Ok. So how does play develop and what should your child be able to do in play?

Stage 1

From birth to 18 months of life, much of your child’s play will revolve around Sensory Play.

This means feeling different textures, learning about how their body feels when it is moved in different ways, listening to interesting noises like birds tweeting, the clock ticking and how different people’s voices sound different and can make interesting noises etc, etc. Their sensory play will continue to develop and become more complex during the first 18 months.

Stage 2

As your child gradually learns to ‘make sense’ of the world around them they then learn to engage in Exploratory and Manipulative Play.

exploratory playThis means that they begin to work out the properties of objects (round, soft, hard, small, large) through their senses and work out how they can play around with them to do different things.

For example; if we take a ball there are many things that we can get to know about a ball… it is round, it can be big or little, heavy or light, you can throw it, kick it, catch it, bounce it, roll it… if I drop it from my high chair it bounces really high, if I put it in water it might float or sink… if I put it down the ramp it will go very fast etc, etc.

This kind of exploration and thinking is very important for a child to develop so that they can go on to learn how to use objects in many different and more complex ways.

Children develop some of this sensory and exploratory play on their own, but they also learn it through interacting and watching their parents, siblings and other children. Once children have built a warm and trusting relationship with certain people they become curious to learn more from them and gain a great deal from watching and copying them.

Stage 3 – Imaginary Play

Sensory play and Exploratory play will continue to become more and more complex. However, once your child has started to really explore objects for their physical attributes they will then be curious to learn about the different functions of objects.

…OK WAIT! Let’s just stop there for a moment.

Many of you might be thinking… “Hold up, my child is stuck at Stage 1 or 2!!”

Your child may be engaging in Sensory play for a good part of their day (playing in the dirt, mouthing objects, running back and forth, wanting to play crashing games, making noises for self stimulatory purposes, playing with objects to create fascinating visual effects, etc) OR they may be using Exploratory play with toys/objects in a very repetitive way rather than exploring all the different properties of the objects.

Challenges in the first two stages of play development are largely the result of poor sensory motor development and/or immature social skills. Since I have already talked about these topics in previous blog posts, I will simply say that if you would like further advice on how to improve these areas of development please check out the following resources…

Sense part 1 and 2 of my Autism Essentials DVD program

and the audio 7 steps to unlocking your child’s social skills.


OK. Back to our discussion of play development and Stage 3 – Imaginary Play…

What does Imaginary play look like?

Let’s take a toy car for example. A child will learn that you can push it just like the cars you see on the road, you can also put people in it and carry them to different places (like the park, or the shops, or to grandmas house etc), you can also put seat belts on the passengers, beep the horn, put things in the boot to take to the beach etc. As a child gains a greater and greater comprehension about what happens in their day and their life experiences continue to expand it endless what they will do with their play. This type of play is called imaginary or symbolic play and typically starts developing at around 12-18 months and becomes more and more complex as the child gets older (ie to six/seven years of age), until they reach a point where they can even act out things that have never happened in their life (eg going to the moon, pretending to be a fairy, etc).

There is SOOOO much that can be taught through Imaginary play and it is a wonderful way of developing your child’s thinking, language, emotional, problem solving and creative skills. However many families are not sure of how to effectively develop these imaginary play skills in their child. If you are interested in how to do this please look out for my next post because I am going to explain this in more detail for you.

See Part 2 here

Until then best wishes.
Monique

P.S: If you have any thoughts or stories to share about this week’s article please leave your comments in the box provided below.

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