Interactive play, as the name suggests, involves interaction and is where social skills like sharing, turn taking and collaboration develops. However, it can be a challenge for a child with autism to do so due to the following reasons:
- they may not see the value of playing with others and hence, prefer playing alone
- they may not have the language to initiate and/or join play
- they have specific interest that may not necessarily interest others
- they are not flexible enough to adapt to the changes during play with others
The most important thing to engage your child in interactive play is to help them see the value of playing with others. And what better way than to start getting them interested in playing with you?
Here are some tips (R.O.C.K) on how to do this:
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Repeat what you say to initiate/start play, so that your child learns what to say when they want you to play the toy/game. Next, repeat what you do when you are playing a specific toy/game- this helps your child learn how to play. Last but not least, repeat the game with different people to help your child generalise playing with other people.
Create and offer opportunities for your child to request by simply pausing the game. When you pause, it signals to your child that he/she needs to do something to continue playing.
Cue child to take a turn
If your child doesn’t know how to take his/her turn, help him/her by modelling verbally or physically. Slow down and exaggerate so that they can understand and imitate after. You can even intentionally leave out last words of frequently repeated phrases like “1… 2… 3…” as a cue so that your child can fill in the blank, “Go!”
You can also use natural cues like, widening your eyes and looking expectantly at them, to let your child know you are expecting a response.
Keep it fun!
Make every interaction with your child so fun that they want to interact with you. Follow your child’s lead and join in! Try not to place any demands or ask too many questions during play and instead, narrate in a silly and engaging manner. Introduce new toys/games that you can play together so that your child has more choices too!
Here are some interactive play ideas you can engage your little ones in:
Apart from getting your child to play and interact with you, you'd also want your child to be able to interact with others. And you can start by organising playdates so that your child gets the opportunity to play with other people and practice what they have learnt in a safe environment. However, note that you still need to be there to facilitate their play. Also, keep the following guidelines in mind:
1. Choose the right child for a playdate
Start with arranging for a playdate with only one playmate! Choose someone who is about your child’s age. An older child would be a good start, as they will be more emotionally mature to help guide and support your child. It is also important that the playmate you have chosen is flexible and willing to play with your child.
2. Pair your child's playmate
Let your child's playmate be the giver of the things your child likes, by getting them to give your child his/her favourite snack/toy. This increases your child’s motivation to play with his new friend. When your child starts to show interest, take opportunities in play to prompt your child to use his skills, such as asking his playmate to share a toy, etc. Going back to the previous point on picking the right playmate, it is crucial for the playmate to respond in a positive way because we want to create as many positive associations as possible for your child about social interactions and peers. While it may not be “realistic” at first, this is a mere step to getting your child interested in reaching out to other people. If the playmate you have chosen is significantly older, you can explain and help them understand their role better. You can also consider giving them some instructions or guidelines for during play, such as getting them to withhold items on occasion so that your child has the opportunity to practise asking. When your child does ask for it (prompted or not), praise them as they are given the item they requested for. This way, your child will learn that their playmate is a rewarding presence, and that social interactions can be rewarding for them, resulting in them being more motivated to interact socially.
3. Pick out the right toys/games, and those that they will enjoy
Pick out toys that your child already knows how to play with to set him/her up for success when playing with others. It is also important to pick out toys like cars, kitchen set, balls or blocks that would encourage interaction. I wouldn’t recommend toys like puzzle/shape sorter as such toys could be easily played alone. Games like these:
are great as it requires at least two people to play and is a great way to practice turn taking and following the rules of a game.
If there’s only one thing you need to remember from this article, that would be to keep every interaction with your child fun so that they will be motivated to interact with you.
Written by Geraldine.
Sussman, F. (1999). More than words: A guide to helping parents promote communication and social skills in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Toronto: Hanen Centre.