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Why is play important for kids with autism?

For kids with autism, play is so important – playing helps them develop skills that are valuable not only for their learning, but overall development as well. Different skills come from various types of play.

Just like typically developing kids, autistic kids love to learn through play. When you actively help you child develop how to play, you help them learn and master new abilities, like mirroring others, sharing, taking turns, exploring, communicating, feeling and considering others.

There are six main types of play, and they include the following:

a) exploratory

b) cause and effect

c) toy

d) constructive

e) physical

f) pretend

Exploratory play is when kids merely explore, or study, their toys and playthings, as opposed to actually playing with them. They might just examine a Lego piece, or feel a doll’s hair or eyelashes. This kind of play helps your child learn about the world around them by learning how to pay attention to things like colors, textures and shapes. In this kind of play, encourage your child to compare colors or describe different textures.

Cause-and-effect play is when kids learn that a specific action results in something. An example is if they turn a knob on a remote control a certain way, the car that’s controlled by the remote will move in a specific direction. If they press keys on a keyboard, sound will come out. Cause-and-effect play teaches your child that they have control over certain things, and that their behaviors have an effect.

Toy play is using toys the way they were designed. For example, you may teach your child how to dribble a basketball, or roll a car down a mat with an illustration of a road. This is how your child learns how to improve their thinking skills, how to solve problems, and how to become more creative in how they play. When you play with them, and they see how you play with the toy, they’ll learn how to copy and how to take turns.

Constructive play is when your child learns how to build things. It may be piling blocks on top of one another or completing a puzzle. This kind of play is great for developing one’s motor skills as well as problem-solving skills.

Physical play is just as it sounds – getting physical! This could be skipping rope, running, playing hopscotch, or any kind of sport. Gross motor skills are developed this way, and gets your child always-needed exercise.

Pretend play lets your child use their imagination. You could pretend to serve tea to the queen, or play an Avenger, or win an Academy award. Pretend play helps autistic children get creative, and also assists in language and communication development. What’s more, it helps them learn the skills they need for social relationships – by pretending, they’re exposed to what other people might be feeling or thinking.

Your child might need assistance in learning how to play, and that presents a wonderful bonding experience for both of you. Encourage play in various kinds of environments and reward them for using their newly learned skills!

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