How to Teach Play Skills to a Child With Autism

Play skills are one of the most important areas that children, especially those with Autism, need to learn. These skills provide opportunities for the child to entertain themselves in meaningful ways, interact with others, and learn important cognitive skills. A successful way to teach play skills to children with autism is to initially teach the specific play skill in a very structured manner. Play Skills

  • Break the play skill into small, discrete steps and teach one step at a time. As the child demonstrates success in learning one step, add the next step. (After the child can add eyes to Mr. Potato Head, then add ears, then arms, etc.)
  • Use modeling to teach the skill (e.g. the adult builds a tower of Legos as the child watches, then the child builds his own tower).
  • Always provide reinforcement (behavior specific praise “Nice job putting the piece in the puzzle”, immediately following the child’s demonstration of the skill.). As the child exhibits improved accuracy of the skill, reinforce successive approximations.
  • The child should have plenty of opportunities to rehearse the skill in a structured setting. Practice, practice, practice!
  • In the structured setting, have the learning opportunities be short and sweet, so the task does not become aversive to the child.
  • Fade the adult prompting and presence out gradually, so the child can gain more independence. Systematically fade the reinforcement so that it is provided after longer durations.
  • Remember to keep the activity fun and exciting. You want your child to WANT to play with the toys and games.

Once the child masters the skill in the structured environment by independently completing the play tasks for extended periods of time, he or she can then begin to practice and develop the skill in more natural settings. Bring the toys and games into other rooms of the house, to school, and eventually have peers present, so the child can use the skills learned in a social setting.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonDeerfieldLincolnwoodGlenviewLake BluffDes PlainesHinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!

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