By Abby Twyman, M.Ed., BCBA
In the summer parents tend to struggle to keep their kids engaged for long periods of time. For typically developing children this is a problem, but it may be even more of a problem for families of kids with autism. One reason this may be is that individuals with autism do not always have well developed independent play and leisure skills.
My nephews for instance, who are typically developing, will go play in their rooms or in the backyard for long periods of time. They will build, draw, play cars and more with very little adult support. If they get bored with the activity, they will independently transition to a new activity without having to be told to do so. They are very independent and can fill their time when the adult in their life can’t play with them such as when cooking dinner or cleaning.
I have many students with autism for whom independent play and leisure skills are essentially non-existent. For these students we have to develop a systematic program to first teach them HOW to engage in individual activities independently and then teach them how to stay independently engaged with activities and transition independently.
One student I worked with really succeeded in developing independent play and leisure skills after we taught him to engage in 10 leisurely activities then taught him to use a choice board and a schedule. When his mom needed to do something which required him to be independently engaged she would tell him “You need to go play by yourself for 30 minutes”. This was his cue to go to the choice board, pick three activities and place them on his schedule. He was taught to either complete an activity or set a timer depending on the particular activity. Mom would reinforce him after the 30 minutes by playing a game with him that he really liked such as hide-and-seek.
Examples of Play and Leisure Activities
- Read a book
- Trains or cars
- Computer game
- Coloring or drawing
- Construction toys