Play And Learn: Functional Play & Autism

Dec 22 , 2022

Play And Learn: Functional Play & Autism

Your student or kid will learn more than "how to play" if you expand their play. Language and reasoning skills will also be improved through extending and developing play skills! Play is divided into two stages: exploratory play and utilitarian play. Children play with toys in "expected" way during functional play, such as pushing a toy bus around the floor.


The transition from exploratory play to one-step functional play begins with the toys that cause and effect. The kid begins to understand that if they act (press the button), something will happen (music plays). At this point, the kid begins to transition from using their senses to explore toys and things to actually performing predicted actions on them. A kid start to functional play by doing one action with one toy (e.g. putting a car down a ramp). Then they broaden their play and pick up more actions they can do with toys. As in rolling the car down the ramp and then ramming it into another vehicle.

The objective is to increase the range of one-step play actions kids can perform with various toys. Children with autism may play more repetitively and struggle to increase their independent functional play. This is when visual aids can be useful!  The adult should go on the kid's level, watch, and mimic what the child is doing in addition to providing visual supports that demonstrate one-step play actions. Continue to build a good relationship by including narration. Then, using a second set of toys, try to promote imitation by modeling various play activities.


Move on to multi-step functional play once your kid or student has mastered multiple one-step play actions with a range of toys. Make some of the one-step play activities into two-step play actions by combining them. For instance, "put the folks in the bus, then push the bus‘’. Both of these steps can be illustrated with visual supports, which is really useful! In addition to having an adult role-model the activities to encourage imitation, visuals can provide children with something to relate to.

Always follow the child's lead when teaching one- or two-step play. Play with the things that fascinate them. Try to ask less questions—or none at all. Instead, adapt the play's narration to the child's level of language. Use exclamatory and symbolic sounds when playing with a youngster who is non-verbal or has few words, for instance. Things like "boom," "ready, set, GO," "uh-oh," or making a car horn sound.


Currently, special education is undergoing a change. With autism, strategies approaches frequently change from "drill" to play-based therapy and education. This strategy fits in well with a teaching strategy based on student strengths. Find out what the child is capable of doing, then build on that. Your child is at the exploratory stage of play if they are throwing, dumping, or pounding things. It is our responsibility to decide which one-step functional play actions to incorporate into the game in order to improve their play abilities. So let's make a promise to one another to spend more time playing with children, listening to them more, and taking the time to observe them.


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