When a child with autism doesn’t know how to play

If you have children in your centre who exhibit behaviours of concern, they may need to be taught how to play and interact.

Learning through play is at the heart of every early educator’s practice. Play helps children to grow physical, emotionally and cognitively. In play children learn to negotiate social interactions, and play also helps develop a positive sense of self.

We often think that play comes naturally, but what do you do when a child doesn’t know how to play?

Many children who have autism or a developmental delay don’t know how to play and interact. This presents a further barrier to their growth and development and often results in additional barriers to engagement and socialisation.

Christine Zuvela, who has a master’s degree in Autism Studies and is director of SDN’s Beranga Lighthouse, a specialist centre for children with autism, says that play and interaction are complex.

“There is a lot going on when a child is playing and interacting,” Christine said. “During this session, we help educators to identify the 6-7 steps to engaging in play as well as interaction. This is often a light bulb moment for educators who realise that their most challenging children are not even making it to step one.”

“We know everyone learns differently,” Christine continued. “Many of the strategies we discuss are applicable to all children.”

One of the most important things educators learn in this session is to identify the stage the child is at and then think outside the box to develop creative strategies to support that child.

“For example,” Christine says. “If a child is continually walking into the block area and tipping out all the blocks it may be a sign that they don’t know how to start playing with the blocks. At SDN Beranga we might start by setting 1-2 blocks up like a tower for the child, modelling a way forward for them. We also use visuals, to show them the kind of tower they can build.”

“If there is a child who is continually pushing other children, it might be because they don’t know how to get other children’s attention to play with them. We use visuals, model behaviours and give teach them strategies to interact.”


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