Children with autism do not follow a typical pattern when they play. Because many children with autism become obsessed with objects in nontypical ways and do not socialize easily, their play is not as socially interactive as that of their peers. In addition, many children with autism are often repetitive in their movements, have communication issues, and are not interested in the world around them, which makes it challenging to encourage children with autism to play with others. Although children with autism may manipulate objects or engage in some form of experimental play, it is usually very different from that of their peers.
While children with autism tend to be somewhat involved with materials and objects that involve the senses, they often show a marked preference for only one type of play material. For example, Sam will build a road for his cars, but he only uses square blocks and he only plays with red cars. Also, since children with autism are usually very literal, they do not always understand or show any desire to participate in symbolic or pretend play. Make-believe and imaginative play, especially if it involves role play or interaction with others, is very uncommon.
It is very difficult for children with autism to understand the social relationships involved in playing successfully with others. Even if they are interested in such interactions, most children with autism do not know how to engage themselves in a play activity with someone else. For this reason, they become even more socially isolated. While their peers are learning to build relationships in play groups and play activities, children with autism are often left sitting alone, absorbed in a favorite toy. Jerome, for example, enjoys making a collage out of bits of fabric, string, and colored paper. However, if you ask him to make a kite with a peer, he turns his back on you and walks away.
When trying to encourage your child, keep the following in mind:
Use the following suggestions to help your child learn to play:
For more suggestions, activities, tips, and knowledge about children on the Autism Spectrum, check out My Child Has Autism: What Parents Need to Know by Clarissa Willis, PhD., available in paperback format.