Most parents know that they need to help their kids learn how to walk, talk, read books and master the fine art of potty training. If you’re a parent of a child with autism, you have probably discovered that your child also needs to learn how to play, unlike other children who learn how to play naturally.
Kids learn a lot about life just from playing with other kids. Just think about all of the things you learned on the playground, such as how to:
- Take turns
- Exchange favors
- Take criticism
- Follow rules
Learning how to play and interact with others during playtime is vital for children with autism, because it’s typically the time when their social skills will come under the most scrutiny. If he or she has trouble socializing with classmates and peers, they could be singled out or subject to bullying.
Practice Playtime Early and at Home
The social challenges that come with an autism diagnosis vary from child to child. One child may be severely lacking in social initiation skills and another may display excessive social interactions (perhaps a one-sided, highly verbal conversation), or act out to get attention. In either case, the behavior can be seen as unusual to other kids and lead to alienation.
By practicing playtime at home, you can help your child learn social interaction skills, which can help him or her feel more comfortable at school and in other social settings. Talk with your child’s pediatrician or behavioral therapist about the best approach for him or her.
Choose Activities Appropriate for Your Child’s Level of Play
As you work on establishing a home playtime plan it is important to consider the child’s current level or stage of play. As kids develop, so does the level of interaction and cooperation in their playtime. In early stages, kids are more self-centered, they play with a toy and don’t notice other people around them. As the child progresses, playtime includes working together and interacting with others (building something together, acting out a play together).
Your child’s health care provider can help you determine which stage your child is at, so you can pick appropriate games and activities to try that will help them get to a level of play that is more cooperative.
Early on, the best activity might be a simple one-action toy like a Jack-in-the-Box. As the child becomes better at interacting and cooperating with others, putting together building toys like Laser Pegs® or helping each other with an art, craft or cooking project could be a fun activity.
Look to Your Child’s Health Care Provider for Help
Other playtime strategies your child’s health care provider may suggest include:
- Restricting early playtime practice for the child to include adults only, since other children won’t understand the child’s needs and challenges.
- Minimizing problems and challenges during play.
- Acting out behaviors that are happy and excited for the child to model.
- Being mindful of facial expressions, tone of voice and other mannerisms and keeping them positive and natural, since the child will be modeling their behavior after yours.
- Using visual aids and cues.
- Talking throughout playtime.
- Making playtime FUN not work.
At Laser Pegs® we offer a wide range of light up building toys for kids of all ages. Check out our light up ABC Blocks for little ones or any of our numerous construction building toy kits that are more advanced. We can help you make playtime fun!
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