Mar 24, 2016

What to Teach When Teaching Play Skills to a Child with Autism (Play Series Part 3 of 3)

Play can be serious business.  For young children, play is where they learn important concepts and new skills. For some children, this comes easily, and for others, it does not. Sometimes, we have to teach play skills...but where do we even start?  

First, it might help to have the definition of the various types of play.  For example, some types of play are:

Solitary Play- playing without seeming to notice others who may be close by.
Onlooker Play- watching others play, but not participating in the play.
Parallel Play- playing with the same toy or set of toys but not necessarily playing with other children who are nearby.
Cooperative Play- playing with a common goal or a shared activity.
Open-Ended Play- a play activity with various outcomes and no set limits on how to interact with the toy.
Close Ended Play- a play activity with one set outcome or a set expectation of how to play with the item.

Each of these skills can be fostered with a little support and guidance.  Having a plan is essential for knowing what to teach.  Some important elements of that plan are to include what vocabulary to teach, what visual supports to use and various ways to expand the play. 

 Play Skills Interactive Notebook
Play Skills Interactive Notebook (Click on the picture to learn more.)

Additionally, consider these questions when teaching play:

What is this game that is being played?
What is this toy all about?
How does this toy work?
How does this activity go?
Is there a different way to play this game or is there only one way?
What visual supports can help the student understand and communicate during the play period?


The next consideration on what to teach might include teaching techniques that facilitate play.  For one, some students may need help with establishing or adhering to boundaries. This may mean planning to use furniture, rugs, tables, and chairs to help establish boundaries.  Some students have difficulty if they see a large open space.  Sometimes by simply adding a chair and a table you can help them concentrate on the game or toy a little better. Also, just having a rug that serves as a visual reminder of where the toy play can take place could help some.  For example, adults may remind the child, that toys stay in the rug area or that they should sit in this chair when playing this board game.

Another skill to teach during play is communication.  One communication technique may be to include incidental teaching during play to increase communication.  In incidental teaching a teaching scene might look like this:

After the child has approached an activity or object, or has attempted to get the object through a gesture or vocalization, approach the child. Your goal is to require him or her to elicit a more sophisticated response. Attempt to use a 3-level prompt hierarchy for this technique (Mirenda & Iacono I988):
1. Natural Prompt- “”What do you want?” or a questioning look.

2. Minimal Prompt- nonspecific verbal direction. “You need to tell me what you want, say, ‘want ____.”

3. Medium Prompt- request imitation. “You need to tell me what you want; say ‘want ____” and spontaneously sign or point to the communication symbol.  The child must communicate to receive the item.

Other teaching techniques might include floor time, discrete trial teaching, pivotal response training, among others.

Having a support like the Play Skills Interactive Journal may provide guidance and a starting point. It provides ideas on what to teach.  It includes ideas for each of these topics: Imitation, Play Skills, Cause and Effect, Cars and Trucks and Water Vehicles.  It also includes visual supports that can aid with communication during play.

Visual Supports for each play theme. 

Happy Playing!




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