Even if a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) plays well with toys when alone, he may still have trouble playing with others. This may mean it’s difficult for him to share a play space, take turns with materials, ask others to play or realize when others want to play with him.
Barriers to interactive play
A number of things can interfere with interactive play for children with autism. For example, these kids may:
- Prefer not to interact with other people.
- Have difficulty communicating, which makes it more challenging to invite others to play or ask to join others.
- Be resistant to changes in routine that can make playing with others difficult, since other children can be unpredictable.
- Have keenly focused interests or repetitive play habits that keep other children from enjoying themselves.
Benefits of playing with others
It’s important to help kids with autism improve interactive play skills because play is a foundation for many learning opportunities. Some of the skills children learn through interactive play are:
- Cognitive skills—like problem solving and playing games
- Communication skills—like asking and answering questions
- Social skills—like taking turns, sharing and cooperative play
Here are some strategies you can use to help your child develop interactive play skills:
- Pairing. This can teach your child that a play partner can give him things he wants and needs, and that spending time with others can be rewarding.
- Pair the play partner with your child’s preferred items or activities so your child will want the play partner in his environment.
- Ask another child to give your child his favorite snack or toy on several occasions.
- Play dates. These are a great way for your child to become more comfortable playing with peers. They can also provide chances to build and practice social skills.
- Invite a child who is patient and flexible and who will model good play and social skills. Start with just one friend, and gradually add new friends to the small group.
- Identify the right activities for the kids. These should be activities that they both enjoy and require communication and interaction between the children.
- Once it’s scheduled, tell your child about the play date, what he should expect and what the rules are. You could include how long the play date will be, what types of games they will play and whether a reward can be earned for good behavior.
- Creating opportunities throughout the day
- Set up opportunities for your child to practice plays skills and social skills with you and other family members during daily routines.
All children must learn interactive play. Children with autism sometimes need a little more practice to learn this important skill. Supporting your child through this process will help him have a better social relationship with peers.
Sign up for one of our workshops to help your child improve and maintain social skills.
We recognize that every child is unique and that the content of this article may not work for everyone. This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. We hope these tips will serve as a jumping-off point for finding the best approach to helping a child with autism. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.