How To Play With Your Child With Autism?

Discover joy in playing with your child with autism! Explore practical and heartwarming tips on creating meaningful connections through play.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
June 12, 2024
Published On
June 12, 2024

The Power of Play for Children with Autism

Play is a powerful tool that can greatly benefit children with autism. It provides a unique avenue for them to learn, explore, and develop important skills. Understanding the relationship between autism and play, as well as the benefits it offers, is essential for caregivers and individuals with autism themselves.

Understanding Autism and Play

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. It is characterized by a range of challenges, including difficulties with social skills, sensory sensitivities, and repetitive behaviors. Play, on the other hand, is a natural and spontaneous activity that children engage in to have fun, learn, and interact with others.

For children with autism, play may look different compared to their neurotypical peers. They may have unique play preferences or engage in repetitive play behaviors. It's important to recognize and embrace these differences, as they are a part of their individuality. By understanding the specific needs and preferences of children with autism, caregivers can create a supportive and inclusive play environment.

Benefits of Play for Children with Autism

Engaging in play activities can offer numerous benefits for children with autism. Here are some key advantages:

  • Social Skills Development: Play provides opportunities for children with autism to practice and improve their social skills. It encourages interaction, turn-taking, and sharing, fostering social communication and cooperation.
  • Sensory Integration: Many children with autism have sensory sensitivities. Play activities that incorporate sensory experiences can help them learn to manage and regulate their sensory responses, promoting sensory integration and self-regulation.
  • Imagination and Creativity: Play allows children to use their imagination and creativity, which can enhance their cognitive development. Pretend play, in particular, can help with problem-solving, abstract thinking, and emotional expression.
  • Communication Enhancement: Play can serve as a platform for language development and communication skills. Caregivers can use play to encourage verbal and nonverbal communication, such as through storytelling, role-playing, and interactive games.
  • Emotional Expression: Play provides an outlet for children with autism to express their emotions and feelings in a safe and constructive manner. It can help them understand their emotions and develop emotional regulation skills.

By recognizing the power of play and its potential benefits, caregivers can actively incorporate play into the daily routine of children with autism. Whether it's structured play activities, sensory play, or pretend play, there are various ways to make playtime engaging, enjoyable, and beneficial for children with autism.

Creating an Autism-Friendly Play Environment

When it comes to playing with children with autism, creating an environment that is supportive and accommodating is essential. By considering sensory factors and choosing the right play structure, caregivers can create an autism-friendly play environment that promotes engagement and development.

Sensory Considerations

Children with autism often have unique sensory needs and sensitivities. It's important to create a play environment that takes these considerations into account. Here are some tips for sensory-friendly play:

  • Visual Supports: Provide visual supports such as visual schedules or visual timers to help children with autism understand the play routine and manage transitions effectively.
  • Lighting: Ensure that the play area has appropriate lighting. Some children with autism may be sensitive to fluorescent lights or bright lighting, so using natural light or softer lighting options can be beneficial.
  • Noise Level: Minimize excessive noise in the play environment. Loud noises or background noise may overwhelm children with autism, making it harder for them to focus and engage in play. Consider using noise-cancelling headphones or providing a quiet space for breaks if needed.
  • Textures and Surfaces: Pay attention to the textures and surfaces in the play area. Some children with autism may have tactile sensitivities, so providing a variety of textures and ensuring comfortable seating options can make play more enjoyable.

By considering sensory factors, caregivers can create a play environment that supports the specific needs of children with autism, allowing them to fully engage in play.

Structured vs. Unstructured Play

When it comes to play, both structured and unstructured activities have their benefits for children with autism. Understanding the differences between these types of play can help caregivers provide a well-rounded play experience.

Structured Play: Structured play involves activities that have clear rules, guidelines, and goals. It provides a structured framework that can enhance learning, social skills, and communication for children with autism. Structured play activities may include board games, puzzles, or organized group activities.

Unstructured Play: Unstructured play, also known as free play, allows children to explore and engage in play without specific rules or guidelines. It promotes creativity, imagination, and problem-solving skills. Unstructured play activities can include imaginative play, building with blocks, or engaging in sensory play.

Both structured and unstructured play have their place in promoting the development and well-being of children with autism. By incorporating a balance of these play styles, caregivers can create a play environment that fosters learning, social interaction, and enjoyment.

Remember, every child with autism is unique, so it's important to observe and understand their individual preferences and needs. By creating an autism-friendly play environment that considers sensory factors and incorporates structured and unstructured play, caregivers can empower children with autism to thrive and enjoy the benefits of play.

Play Activities for Children with Autism

Engaging in play activities is highly beneficial for children with autism, as it promotes various aspects of their development. In this section, we will explore three types of play activities that are particularly helpful for children with autism: sensory play, pretend play, and social play.

Sensory Play

Sensory play involves activities that stimulate the senses, such as touch, sight, sound, smell, and even taste. For children with autism, who often have sensory processing differences, sensory play can be especially valuable. It helps them explore and understand different sensations, regulate their sensory experiences, and develop important sensory integration skills.

Sensory play activities can include:

  • Playing with textured materials like sand, water, or rice.
  • Engaging in tactile activities such as finger painting or playing with playdough.
  • Exploring sensory bins filled with various materials like beans or feathers.
  • Creating calming sensory spaces with soft lighting and soothing music.

By providing opportunities for sensory play, you can support your child's sensory development and help them build a positive relationship with sensory input.

Pretend Play

Pretend play, also known as imaginative play or symbolic play, involves creating imaginary scenarios and engaging in role-playing activities. This type of play is crucial for developing social, emotional, and cognitive skills in children with autism.

Encourage your child to engage in pretend play by:

  • Providing props and costumes to facilitate imaginative scenarios.
  • Role-playing daily routines, such as cooking in a play kitchen or taking care of stuffed animals.
  • Encouraging storytelling and creating narratives with toys or puppets.
  • Participating in pretend play alongside your child to model social interactions.

Pretend play allows children with autism to practice social skills, expand their creativity, and develop problem-solving abilities. It can also serve as a platform for communication and language development.

Social Play

Social play involves interactions with others, fostering social skills, and building relationships. For children with autism, who may face challenges in social communication, engaging in structured social play activities can be immensely helpful.

Some social play activities suitable for children with autism include:

  • Engaging in cooperative games that require turn-taking and sharing.
  • Participating in group activities like building with blocks or puzzles.
  • Joining organized sports or recreational programs designed for children with special needs.
  • Attending playdates or joining social skills groups.

Structured social play provides opportunities for children with autism to practice social cues, improve their communication skills, and develop friendships. It can also boost their self-confidence and emotional well-being.

By incorporating sensory play, pretend play, and social play into your child's routine, you can create a well-rounded play environment that supports their development in various domains. Remember to tailor the activities to your child's interests and abilities, and celebrate their progress and effort along the way.

Play Strategies for Caregivers

When engaging in play activities with a child with autism, caregivers play a vital role in creating a supportive and enjoyable environment. By implementing effective play strategies, caregivers can foster meaningful interactions and promote development. Here are three essential strategies for caregivers to consider:

Following the Child's Lead

One of the most effective strategies for engaging a child with autism in play is to follow their lead. This means observing and joining in on the activities or interests that capture the child's attention.

By joining in on their preferred activities, caregivers can establish a connection and build trust with the child. This approach encourages the child's active participation and enhances their engagement in play. By following the child's lead, caregivers demonstrate acceptance and create an environment where the child feels understood and supported.

Incorporating Special Interests

Incorporating a child's special interests into play activities can be an effective way to engage and motivate them. Special interests can range from a fascination with trains to a deep passion for animals. By incorporating these interests into play, caregivers can make the activities more meaningful and enjoyable for the child.

For example, if a child has a keen interest in animals, caregivers can introduce animal-themed toys, books, or even plan a visit to a local zoo. This approach not only promotes a sense of joy and engagement but also encourages learning and development in areas related to their interests.

Providing Visual Supports

Visual supports can be a valuable tool for children with autism during play sessions. Visual supports include visual cues, schedules, or visual aids that help the child understand and follow instructions or routines.

These supports can be particularly beneficial for children who have difficulty processing verbal information or have challenges with communication and social interaction. Visual supports can include visual schedules, labeled bins for organizing toys, or visual prompts to guide play activities. By providing visual supports, caregivers enhance the child's understanding, reduce anxiety, and promote independence during play.

By incorporating these strategies into play sessions, caregivers can create a positive and inclusive play environment for children with autism. Each child is unique, and it's important to experiment with different strategies and techniques to find what works best for the individual. Remember, play is not only a fun and enjoyable experience but also a powerful tool for promoting social interaction, communication, and overall development.

Tips for Successful Play Sessions

Engaging in play sessions with a child with autism can be a rewarding and enriching experience. Here are some tips to make your play sessions successful and enjoyable for both you and the child:

Establishing Routines and Predictability

Children with autism often thrive in structured environments. Establishing routines and predictability can create a sense of security and comfort during play sessions. Consistency in the timing, duration, and location of play can help the child feel more at ease. Consider creating a visual schedule or using visual supports to provide a clear understanding of the play session's sequence of activities.

Tips for Establishing Routines and Predictability- Set a regular playtime schedule.- Use visual schedules or visual supports to provide a clear understanding of the play session's structure.- Provide verbal or visual cues to signal transitions between activities.- Reinforce the routine by adhering to it consistently.

Modifying Games and Toys

Adapting games and toys to meet the needs of children with autism is essential to ensure meaningful engagement during play sessions. Consider the child's sensory preferences, motor skills, and cognitive abilities when selecting or modifying games and toys. Simplify complex rules, break activities into smaller steps, and provide additional visual or tactile supports as needed.

Tips for Modifying Games and Toys- Choose toys and games that match the child's developmental level and interests.- Simplify complex rules and gradually introduce new elements.- Break activities into smaller steps and provide visual or tactile supports.- Consider using toys or materials that cater to the child's specific sensory preferences.

Celebrating Progress and Effort

Recognizing and celebrating the child's progress and effort during play sessions can boost their motivation and self-esteem. Positive reinforcement, such as praise, rewards, or tokens, can be effective in encouraging desired behaviors and fostering a positive play experience. Focus on the child's strengths and accomplishments, no matter how small, to create a supportive and encouraging environment.

Tips for Celebrating Progress and Effort- Provide specific and immediate praise for desired behaviors or accomplishments.- Use rewards or tokens to reinforce positive behaviors during play.- Focus on the child's strengths and celebrate even small achievements.- Encourage the child to reflect on their own progress and effort.

By implementing these tips during your play sessions, you can create an inclusive and enjoyable environment that promotes the child's development and engagement. Remember to be patient, flexible, and responsive to the child's individual needs and preferences. Play sessions offer valuable opportunities for learning, socialization, and growth, and with these strategies, you can make the most of these experiences.


In wrapping up our journey on how to play with your child with autism, remember that it's not just about the games; it's about the shared moments of joy, connection, and understanding. Embrace the uniqueness of your child, celebrating the victories, big and small, that unfold during playtime.

Be patient, stay present, and let the magic of play be a bridge that brings you closer. Through laughter, exploration, and genuine connection, you're not just playing – you're building a foundation of love that lasts a lifetime. Enjoy the play, savor the moments, and revel in the beautiful tapestry of your relationship.