Encouraging Interactive Play for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Tips for Parents

Loretta Gallo-Lopez, MA, LMHCby Loretta Gallo-Lopez, MA, LMHC

The American Academy of Pediatrics has indicated that “… play is healthy and in fact essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.” Interactive play has been shown to enhance social communication and connection. Many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have difficulties spontaneously engaging in interactive or social play. The following tips will help to encourage and support this type of play for children with ASD.

  1. Make every effort to play with your child several times each day for 15 to 30 minutes.
  2. Play at your child’s eye level, facing your child and following your child’s lead.
  3. Be a fun, animated and sometimes silly play partner. Encourage other family members to play with your child as well.
  4. Start with games, toys and props that represent your child’s passions, interests and strengths and gradually introduce other items to help broaden the play experiences.
  5. Play simple games together like peek-a-boo with a blanket, music making and singing songs together, rolling a beach ball, building with blocks, or drawing together on large sheets of paper.
  6. dad and son playCreate spaces for play within your home – carefully choose toys and props that encourage dramatic, imaginative and  interactive play. Toys such as a dollhouse with family figures, toy animals, vehicles, a garage, toy cash register, costumes, hats, etc., all support the type of play that enhances social communication and connection.
  7. Play can take place anywhere. Use every opportunity to playfully connect with your child. Have a tea party on the porch, a picnic in the yard, build a road along the floor for toy cars or trains to travel around town.
  8. Provide opportunities for daily outdoor play. Bubbles, ball play, drawing with sidewalk chalk, and sand and water play are all great ways to encourage sensory and interactive outdoor play with your child.
  9. Have regular family dance parties. Start with your child’s favorite songs and add  new songs to increase flexibility.
  10. Enjoy, treasure and value these daily play times with your child!

Loretta is the co-editor and contributing author of Play-Based Interventions for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders.