The importance of play for toddlers with autism

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The act of play is a crucial aspect of a child’s development, it is how they learn to interact with their world, and the people within it. Not only that, but play helps children develop fine motor skills, aids development in communication, and encourages the growth of social skills. However, for parents who have a child with an autism diagnosis, or who have children showing early signs of autism, there is often a lot of uncertainty or anxiety about how best to play with their children.

This is often because although autistic children often enjoy certain types of play, they can find specific styles of play particularly challenging. As a result, they may require enhanced support from carers or parents for certain tasks. Children typically engage in different forms of play, and what follows are the top tips for supporting children with Aspergers or autism across some of these different forms:

1. Exploratory play

Model exploratory behaviour with toddlers and children by encouraging them to explore different shapes, colours, textures around them. For example, some messy art using shaving foam can be a great way for autistic children to learn to explore their world – show them the way first and encourage them to follow your lead!

2. Cause and effect play

This style of play helps children learn that an action creates a result. Start simple with a jack and the box type toy, or musical toy. Give praise and encouragement when the right action is taken, or take it in turns to create the effect. This process allows autistic children gain a sense of control in their play too.

3. Pretend play

Make believe and pretend play is important for developing social skills, and may be delayed in children with an autism diagnosis. However, there are lots of simple and everyday pretend play actions you can help your child have fun with – driving a car, having a tea party, or giving toys silly voices. Again, take things slowly, make it fun, and give praise.

Remember, like every child, autistic children are likely to have their own individual strengths and interests. Supporting and encouraging these strengths, whilst also encouraging a wider development of interests are methods which will help your child learn, play, and grow, ensuring that the time spent playing is not only beneficial, but fun for both of you too!

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