Submitted by Stephanie Williams
Through play, children learn to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength (Ginsburg, 2007). However, some children with autism may need a little extra support during play activities.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often participate better in activities that are constructive in nature. Constructive Play is characterized as manipulation of objects for the purpose of constructing or creating something (Rubin, 1984). During constructive play activities, children use materials to achieve a specific goal that requires transformation of objects into a new configuration. Activities that require children with ASD to build something (ex. blocks) or place items in a particular manner (ex. puzzles) may be more motivating and concrete than pretend play activities. When objects have a clearly defined “space” into which they belong or have a predictable function, you may find that children with autism will be more engaged and interested in participating.
Things to consider:
- Spend time to identify motivating activities. Communication happens best during these times.
- Make sure you provide the necessary tools for successful communication. Communication picture boards or voice output communication devices can offer the visual and auditory input and output to teach skills and increase understanding.
- If you are using a communication device, you might not always have the exact vocabulary that matches every activity. Get creative and think outside of the box. Instead of creating new pages, use the content that is already in the system so that your child can begin to generalize the vocabulary.
- If you are using a communication device, you must become familiar with the content in your students device in order for you to teach them appropriate use of their system. If you don’t know where the vocabulary is located then you can’t help your student when they get stuck.
Listed below are some specific examples of how a communication device can be used to support communication during play. While these examples come from DynaVox devices, these same strategies can be applied to any device you might have. If you are not using a communication device, simple picture boards can achieve the same outcomes.
Hint: For many of these activities, hold the play pieces in your hands or in a bag, slightly out of the child’s reach so that you can work on the following skills:
- Requesting (choice making)
- Turn-taking (social/pragmatic)
- Commenting (expressive language)
- Vocabulary learning (receptive language)
- Yes/No (e.g. Do you want the red one?)
Hint: Make sure that you give plenty of wait time to allow child to process, plan and respond. You may be missing communicative attempts if you don’t give them enough time.
Hint: Before initiating the activity with the child, make sure you navigate to the appropriate page and collect the necessary materials so you are all ready to go with the play activity! Also, don’t forget that you may have to show (model) the child how to use the new vocabulary during the activity.
Play Example 1: Ball Maze
Play Example 2: Busy Box
Play Example 3: Puzzles
Dictionary pages often contain single words that fit into a category such as food, animals, actions, things, transportation, etc. Depending on the type of puzzle you are using will determine which category you use. Here are some examples:
Play Example 4: Toy cars and trucks
Play Example 5: Time in the sensory room
Children with autism may spend time in a sensory room, if one is available in their school or facility. A sensory room is a place where a person with special needs can interact in a pleasant environment where the distractions of the outside world are completely absent. The overactive can be calmed, the inactive become interested.
Play Activity 6: Mr. Potato Head
Play Activity 7: Song play
Singing is a common activity in the young child classroom. The DynaVox v/Vmax has several popular songs pre-loaded.
Play Activity 8: Pretend Play
While we know that children with ASD my respond better to constructive play activities, it is also important to expose them to pretend play activities as well.