How Play Can Help Children with Autism

Play is immensely beneficial to children with autism and supports the key areas of their development in the same ways that it helps children without autism, whether it’s exploratory, sensory or pretend play.

The difference is that autistic children often find some types of play more challenging than others or they may remain fixed on one of the ‘stages’ of play. They may also find it difficult to break out of routines, which can result in the delayed development of play skills, or they may prefer using non-traditional toys.

Nonetheless, playtime remains an integral part of autistic children’s development, from promoting communication skills to supporting motor skills. Although we aren’t experts, we’ve compiled a few well-researched tips on play for autistic children, as part of our commitment to encouraging quality educational play.

Tips for playtime

• Encourage their way of playing: Autistic children shouldn’t be forced to advance their play skills if they seem stuck on one type of play. Accept the stage your little one is at and join in playtime to be as encouraging as possible. For example, if sorting toy cars (sensory play) is the favourite game of the moment, try teaching new ways to sort and categorise the cars rather than pushing your child to race them (imaginative play). This kind of support broadens autistic children’s horizons within their comfort zone, giving the confidence to try new types of play when ready.

• Find alternative ways to promote development: As imaginative play can be especially difficult for autistic children, this can delay the development of their social skills. As an alternative, try planning carefully structured group play that will promote social and communication skills while allowing your little one to remain at ease.

• Choose the right toys: Many autistic children are hypersensitive to sensory stimuli, so if this is the case, ditch any brightly coloured, highly sensory toys that are noisy, have strong smells, or lots of textures. Similarly, autistic children may be easily stressed by unexpected changes, so avoid toys like Jack-in-the-Box or blocks that could tumble down unexpectedly.

• Use visual teaching methods: Autistic children are usually visually oriented and are often unable to process spoken words instantaneously. So when teaching new ways of playing, show your child how to do it rather than using verbal explanations, and remember to be patient if learning takes time and repetition.

Figuring out the play that works best for a child with autism is a learning curve, as with any child. For more information or support, visit The National Autistic Society, and to learn more on our eco-friendly educational toys, contact us at The Little Woodpecker today.