Play Skills Development for Children with Autism

There are at least two main types of play skills development, social and independent.  Usually, most goals focus on social play skills but, if independent play skills are not taught correctly, it just becomes independent stim time.

Today I’m going to answer a question from a recent Live Q and A session discussing how to teach children play and social skills.

This is the question: “This three year old has good independent play skills, but lately he has been very repetitive in that he asks for a game or puzzle, opens it and puts pieces on the floor. But he doesn’t really do anything with the game and then asks to tidy up in a couple of minutes. Could this be because he’s already played with the toys and puzzles and he’s mastered all of them? Is he just bored? Does this call for a change in his toys? Behavior analysts recommend starting with simple activities in steps, like a circuit, and we complete them for reinforcement.”

Play and Social Skills

Independent toy play is one goal, and the other goal we have is social play skills. I would work on both. You want him to keep himself entertained. What I find though, with a lot of kids with autism, if it’s not taught and monitored well the independent play skills development will often become independent stim time. Independent work activities can also become independent stim activities. Self-stimulatory activity often looks like your child or client flicking their fingers, rocking, or tapping a pen.

I remember way back when I was in one of my very first classrooms in 2003, I worked with a boy with very few social skills. He was probably in first grade, and I had seen him a couple times before in the classroom setting. When I went to visit him this time, I looked over at him and I said to his teacher, “what’s he doing over there?” She said, “Oh, he’s in independent work activities.” But he was sticking his fingers down his throat. That’s not independent work time, that’s independent stim time. This can get really out of hand, especially when you have your child or client playing with the same toys over and over again, or have them looking at the same books. Having multiple activities available can help keep the child from stimming.

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Self-Stimulatory Behavior

Self stimulatory behavior is not always bad, however. You might want to have a stim box of toys for when you’re cooking or getting in the shower, and you want the child to be doing something productive before they learn real leisure activities. They could have an iPad and watch TV, stack blocks, or do a puzzle. This type of stimming keeps them safe and entertained when they need to be on their own for a little while.

Types of Play Skills Development

But outside of those times, you can be working on social skills through play. Like the behavior analyst mentioned in the question suggested, make a play skills circuit. Have the child or client complete one activity, stop, clean it up, and then move on to the next activity.

There is a good book called What you Need to Know About Motivation and Teaching Games by Steve Ward. I’ve had him on my podcast. Go Fish is a great game to play when working on play skills development, or a simple activity like Hot and Cold. Steve’s book has great suggestions to teach social skills through game play.

In the past, I’ve talked about little books that teach play skills development by having an activity on each page that show the child how to do each activity in order, flipping from one page to the next as they learn social skills through play.

The other thing you can do is get a plastic container with a few drawers, and make the first drawer the puzzle drawer, or some other game. Put everything they need for the puzzle in that drawer. Then, put other activities in the rest of the drawers. You could have specific times or days for each drawer. Now the child or client knows, “Oh, I’m supposed to do the vehicle puzzle at this time.” He goes over and gets the vehicle puzzle out of the drawer, sits down and does it. Then he cleans it up and puts it back. Now he’s ready to move onto the next activity.

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Play skill development like this is a novel way to rotate your toys, keep your child or client busy, and not let them fall into self-stimulatory behavior.

My mission is to provide practical autism ABA strategies to both parents and professionals so they can help children with autism reach their fullest potentials! For more information about self-stimulatory behavior, play skill development, and a really in depth look at strategies for helping your child or closet with autism, consider taking one of my courses below.

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Transcript

There are at least two main types of play skills, social play skills and independent play skills and usuallymost goals I’ve seen in the past focus on social play skills, but if independent play skills are not taughtcorrectly, it becomes independent stimtime and the child really doesn’t know how to keep him orherself busy. Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, autism mom, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, online coursecreator, and bestselling author of The Verbal Behavior Approach. Each week I provide you with some ofmy ideas about turning autism around so if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel you can dothat now. Today I’m sharing a small excerpt from a recent live Q and A session discussing how to teachchildren independent play skills. This three yearold has good independent play skills, but lately he hasbeen very repetitive in that he asks for a game or puzzle, opens it and puts pieces on the floor, doesn’treally do anything and asks tidy up in a couple of minutes.Could this be because he’s already played with the toys and puzzles and he’s mastered all of them and isjust bored, which calls for a change in his toys? Um, behavior analysts recommend starting with simpleactivities in steps like a circuit when we complete them, then there’s reinforcement. Um, yeah, I think,um, there’s independent toy play is one goal and one issue and then we have, um, uh, more, uh, socialgame playing and those sorts of things. So I would work on both. You want him to keep himselfentertained. What I find though in alot of kids with autism, if it’s not taught and monitored well, thatindependent play often becomes independent stim time. Um, and independent work activities becomeindependent stim activities. I remember way back, I was in a classroom, one of my very first classroomsin 2003 and I walked in and this boy with very few skills, he was probably in first grade and you know, Ihad seen him a couple of times just trying to like triage the whole classroom.Um, and I looked over and I said, what’s he doing over there? And she said, Oh, he’s in independentwork activities. And he was, he was sticking his fingers down his throat and like this. And I’m like, that’snot independent work. That’s independent stim. Um, so that can get like really out of hand, especiallywhen you don’t, when you have him do the same toys over and over again or have him look at the samebooks over and over again. So, um, there might be, you know, like literally a stim box of toys that that’swhat he could do. He can stim with it. I mean, you have to think about like when you’re cooking, whenyou’re getting a shower, what, you know, what do you want your child to be doing until he develops realleisure activities. Would you rather have him on an iPad watching TV, stacking blocks over and overagain the same way, playing with toys over and over again the same way? Um, you could have him domastered things in order. Um, and that might be like your behavior analyst is suggesting make it likekind of a circuit, but you’re going to have to make sure that he completes this. And then goes to the nextthing. Completes it, goes to the next thing, um, and cleans it up in the middle of it, um, that could verywell work. There is a good book called Activity Schedules for Young Children with Autism. I’ve showedyou in the past like little books where you can, you can teach, chain skills together. You can teachindependent work activities by having this little photo book and going, okay, now I gotta do this. Now Igotta do this. The other thing you can do isyou can get like maybe a six drawer plastic, uh, containerand drawer one is this puzzle and with the, you know, all the materials, he would need to take it out todo it, put it, put it away, put it back in, close the door, and then you could rotate thoseor rotate thepictures. So that each day is, is, uh, you know, if you did the book, then he could just go, Oh, I’msupposed to do, uh, the, the vehicle puzzle. He goes over, he gets the vehicle puzzle, he sits down, hedoes it, he cleans it up. He puts itback, Oh, now I’m gonna do X, Y, or Z. And so that is a novel way tokind of rotate your toys, keep him busy, and not let it become really stimmy. Wherever you’re watchingthis, I’d love it if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, share thisvideo with others whomay benefit and for more information, you can attend a free online workshop atmarybarbera.com/workshop and I’ll see you right here next week.

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