PLAY is considered the primary occupation of children and this impulse to play is innate in them. It has a dominant role in the overall development of a child’s biological, psychological, and social attributes. But children with autism do not develop this impulse without assistance from adults. They have limited play skills that they tend to play with their toys in a monotonous way like spinning car wheels and lining of toys. If we don’t give them ample time to play, this lack of play skills can consequently affect their imitation skills that are essential in the learning process.
Of course, we will not leave you without giving some fixes. But just a warning, you’ll be exhausting so much time, energy, and effort to achieve this mission. You’ll probably need to invest more TIME at this point, time to play with your child, and time to teach him how to play. It’s important to note that children will continue using the skills that they pick up from PLAY throughout their existence. It is during play that they can master the skills in connecting with others appropriately in a myriad of situations. And not to forget its contributing factor to the language development of a child.
The following are the STAGES OF PLAY DEVELOPMENT that were identified by sociologist Mildred Parten Newhall. Let’s delve into this list to understand how children play and what can we do to teach them play skills. We also included several tips on how to support children with ASD in each stage.
STAGES OF PLAY DEVELOPMENT
1. Unoccupied (Birth – 3 Months) Babies don’t make specific movements to play at this stage. They start to manipulate toys and other objects that are within their reach.
TIP: Introduce toys that have bright colors, musical, and textured. These toys are good companions in helping babies learn different textures, listen to sounds and see various colors even if their color vision is not good yet at this point in time.
2. Solitary Play (3 months – 2 years ½) At this stage, children play with their toys alone. They try to explore toys by touching and even licking them. You shouldn’t worry about this because solitary play allows them to explore their toys freely. It also improves their cognitive and motor skills.
TIP: Help your child learn how to manipulate toys by modeling how they are played. Stacking cups are excellent toys at this stage. Show the child how to use this toy and then let him practice. There’s a whole lot of manipulative toys that you can introduce. Just remember to MODEL.
3. Onlooker (2 ½ years – 3 years ) Onlookers do not want to play with others. They prefer to observe other children when they play. Social and play rules are learned by merely looking at how others are doing it.
TIP: Do not force your child to engage in play yet. Give the child time to process how to play with other kids.
4. Parallel Play (3 years to 4 years) In this stage, children play near other kids but do not interact with each other. They are just learning and exploring together.
TIP: Arrange a playdate with other kids and let your child observe how other children play with toy trains, cars, dolls, and balls. Head to the nearest playground and have your child observe or even join other kids.
5. Associative Play (4 years – 4 ½ years) Children begin to notice other children at this point. They are not fixated on their toys anymore. They learn to interact with their peers, practice turn-taking and sharing toys.
TIP: Give your child more opportunities to play with others. You can encourage your child to lend his toy to his playmates or show him how to borrow other kids’ toys. You can teach him how to PRETEND PLAY with other kids by using kitchen toys. Pretend that you’re frying an egg, and you’re going to eat breakfast soon. Be animated!
6. Cooperative play (4½ years and up) This stage starts when children learn to work together to engage in a meaningful play hence the term COOPERATIVE. In this particular stage, children prefer games that have set rules. Conflicts can happen a lot during this time but it’s totally fine because this is when they can learn how to create different things with others as well as negotiate with them.
TIP: Children with ASD often struggle at this stage. Some of them might not want to be around kids at all and prefer solitary play. Continue creating opportunities for them to play with others. Give clear and simple instructions during playtime. When playing tag, for instance, give step by step directions. Play with him as often as possible so he can remember the rules.
These different phases in play development can enable parents to craft and design functional plays suitable for each stage. Make playtime part of your daily schedule. There is no need to purchase toys that break the bank, all you need is just CREATIVITY and TIME. And one last advice, enjoy the JOURNEY.