Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term that describes various neurobehavioral conditions. It impacts communication and social skills. Autistic children experience different levels of severity. Some children might have high logical intelligence but lack emotional aspects, whereas others might struggle with life skills like dressing or feeding themselves.
Having a child with ASD can shatter your dreams and life goals. You need to take responsibility and necessary steps to help the child develop confidence and social skills and get well-adjusted.
Conventional methods, like reading and writing, are not helpful to children with ASD. They prefer activities that stimulate their senses. Activities like arts, crafts, games, and exercises can help autistic children boost their attention spans. These activities calm them down, lower their anxiety and stress levels, and help them develop their motor, language, and social skills.
Therefore, games and physical exercises are crucial in helping autistic children involve themselves and develop social skills. In this article, we will see how playing games and physical activities help autistic children and what types of games you can engage them in.
How does ASD Affect Play?
ASD affects social and communication skills, and children are unwilling to share experiences. There is a lack of understanding of the thoughts and feelings of others. Autistics struggle to understand nonverbal cues like facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice. Imagination power is also weak, and autistics fail to pretend. It leads to repetitive actions.
Due to these difficulties in children with ASD, the following playing skills are affected:
- copying actions of other people
- sharing objects
- paying attention to others
- responding to instructions or directions
- taking turns in any activity
Due to the lack of these crucial playing skills, autistic children find it challenging to participate in fun or playful activities with peers.
The Importance of Play for Autistic Children
Play is crucial for building fine and gross motor skills in autistic children. Fun exercises and games help develop social skills and problem-solving skills. However, games can be very limited in children with autism spectrum disorder due to deficits in skills. They need guidance and structuring to learn play skills.
Research shows that vigorous physical activity for a shorter duration helps autistic children decrease aggression, stereotypical behaviors, and hyperactivity. Exercises also help them engage in the environment, promote weight loss, and lead to better health. Games and physical activities increase endurance, strength, coordination, and body awareness in autistic children.
Due to limited play skills in children with ASD, they can play with only a few toys. They do not play with toys the way most kids do. Parents with autistic children often struggle to get their children interested in new toys and exercises.
Playtime is learning time for children with autism. Playing is crucial for developing new skills. It may lead to opportunities for play. When engaged in play, you can help the child practice communication skills. Playtime can also be a great way to learn by spending time with others. You can teach the skills of taking turns or sharing during the play.
Strategies to Engage Autistic Child in Play
The individual needs of a child with ASD determine the type of adaptations needed in games. However, you can apply the following general guidelines to ensure a successful outcome in children with ASD.
- The interests of the children are critical in deciding what games to choose. Watch them play and identify common interests and themes.
- Introduce new toys and help the child play with them. Remember to mark the toys and explain what to do with them. It will help you model new words to enhance their vocabulary.
- Include preferred toys or snacks during play activities. Reward the child with snacks when he learns to play with a new toy.
- Prepare the child thoroughly for what they will experience during the game. Clear the expectations in the beginning.
- Provide the opportunity to express any questions or anxieties or ask questions before you start the game.
- Make the objective of the game clear with peers before the beginning game.
The play should be fun and rewarding to involve the autistic child. Take measures to encourage and include child’s interest in various toys and games. It helps with social skills and communication
Types of Play for Children with ASD
Playing games benefit all children. However, children with autism may find it challenging to participate in traditional games. Play is crucial for autistic children because the autistic child can practice those skills that adults employ during social interactions, professional dealings, and the educational field. Games provide therapeutic richness just by playing and help the child take advantage to improve skills.
The following adaptations can support children with autism. These adaptations may not be appropriate for every child due to the wide range of severity in children with ASD but may act as starting points for parents and teachers. They can use these to support children with ASD based on their abilities and requirements.
- Exploratory play
During exploratory plays, the children with ASD explore objects and toys instead of playing with them. The child pays close attention to the color, texture, and shape rather than playing with them. The child learns about the world by exploring toys of different shapes, colors, and sizes.
To help children with ASD with exploratory play, you can encourage them to explore objects around them as a part of their daily routine. For example, encourage the child to splash water, rub soap between their fingers, pour water from a cup, etc., when bathing.
- Cause-and-effect play
In cause-and-effect play, children play with toys where they have to take action to get a result. For example, the child presses a button to play music.
Cause-and-effect play is an exciting way to teach children that their actions have effects. The child learns to take a turn and seek help while learning to copy what you do.
Cause and effect play also teaches children that their behaviors have effects and actions result in something.
- Toy Play
Toy play involves using toys for the purpose and the manner they are designed. For example, to pushing the pushing car, holding the phone in their ear, and dribbling a basketball. Toy play helps develop thinking, creative skill, and problem-solving skills. The autistic child learns to use a toy, copy, and take turns.
To make the play effective, reward and praise the child. Engage the child and communicate and let the child lead.
- Constructive play
Constructive play teaches children to build or make things. It is a process of working towards a goal or product. For example, when the child with ASD starts completing a jigsaw puzzle, drawing something, or making a tower out of blocks, he is constructing some product or solution.
Constructive play can help develop motor skills and problem-solving skills. Children with autism spectrum disorder enjoy being creative. Help and encourage the child by demonstrating or showing what to do.
- Physical play
Physical play, as it sounds, is rough-and-tumble play. It involves running around, skipping, and getting physical.
Physical play is helpful for autistic children as it gives them whole-body exercise. This type of play helps them develop gross motor skills. The child can explore the environment and interact with people during physical play.
- Pretend play
Pretend play involves the use of imagination during the play. Pretend play helps autistic children get creative by imagining whatever they like to do or become. They are the most advanced form in autistic children. For example: imagine dancing with the queen, playing an Avenger, or winning an Academy award. Pretend play helps to develop the skills required for social relationships, language, and communication.
- Functional play
Functional play is the typical or correct form of play. It involves playing with objects in the way they are designed. It is the way you would expect the child to play.
When the child rolls the car rather than piling on top of each other, it shows a functional play.
Functional play is a challenge for children with an autism spectrum disorder. You should play with the child and copy what the child does rather than correcting. Later reward the child and show them the correct way to play. It will give the idea to the child what to do with the toy.
Simple Activities to Engage Autistic Children
There are many simple yet effective ways to engage autistic children, like:
- To bounce the balloons around, blowing them up and deflating them.
- Playing with bubbles
- To play with cause and effect toys. They are an excellent way of fun and learning skills, teaching a sense of control.
- Playing with blocks, building something, and then breaking it. It teaches the importance of taking turns.
- Play puzzle-solving games. They engage the child and help them develop problem-solving skills.
- Involve the autistic child in books with interactive sounds, attractive textures, or books with things to do. They are engaging for the children.
Exercises and plays are a boon to autistic children. They have many benefits in developing social and interactive skills. A study states that approximately 80 percent of autistic children suffer from movement impairments. The inactive lifestyle worsens them. Exercises, games, and physical activities reduce negative behaviors, improve coping skills, and elevate mood to enhance the quality of life in children with autism.