Play and Autism: 

Children with autism tend to be motivated differently when it comes to learning- having a breakdown of the steps makes the activity less complex and easier to follow. Play requires multiple steps to follow which requires the necessary thinking skills which many children might not be able to at an early stage. Moor, (2002) cited in Chambers et al, (2016). 

What is a play plan?

Using visuals for play plans: 

Visuals can be used to support play activity; they act as a schedule for completing the play activity. These visuals can be interchangeable to be used with different activities, including turn-taking, single play activities, and fist/then visuals.  

Reinforce, Reinforce, Reinforce play: 

It is so important to reinforce your child for completing the play activity, this can be done in different ways. It could be that you provide verbal praise, provide a preferred toy, snack, or item for playing with a toy appropriately as outlined in their play plan. This should be done immediately after they have played with the toy in the play plan.

What happens if your child wants to escape the play plan? 

There may be times when your child is presented with an unpreferred play idea that they don’t want to complete, it is so important for you to have them follow through with the play activity before they receive reinforcement or their activity choice.  

If the child does escape the play activity it sets the scene that they can forgo the activity and play with their choice, at times this will only increase each time you present an un-preferred play activity. An important thing to remember is to follow through with the unpreferred activity and provide prompting if necessary. 

Different types of play: 

  • Parallel play- this is when your child is near yourself or others whilst playing with their own toys.  
  • Pretend play- this is known as imaginative play where your child pretends with their play e.g. pretend cooking with playdoh. 
  • Functional independent play- this is when a toy is played with as it should be e.g rolling a ball.  
  • Co-operative play-  involves your child and a peer engaging in a joint toy that they use together e.g. building a tower. 
  • Interactive play takes place when your child turn takes with a peer or adult during turn-taking games e.g. playing board games. 

(Meadows, 2014). 

 Below are some play ideas that can be tried at home with your child:             

Functional play ideas 


Pretend play ideas: 


Interactive play ideas: 


  • Playdoh- making balls, food, using playdoh utensils 
  • Water play- use animals, dump and fill with bucket. 
  • Cars, trucks and trains- pushing and pulling vehicles. 
  • Doll’s– feeding the dollspushing in strollerputting to bed. 


  • Dress up 
  • Food and kitchen 
  • Tea parties 
  • Play house 
  • Grocery shop 


  • Hide and seek 
  • Board games 
  • Red light green light 
  • Physical play/tag/chase 


Parallel Play ideas:  Co-operative Play ideas: 


  • Train tracks 
  • Cars 
  • Blocks 
  • books 


  • Block building 
  • Puzzles 
  • Tug of war 
  • Ball play 




Chambers, L., McDaniel, L., McGill, T. and Wells, K. (2015) Autism in Early Childhood: Teaching object based play. Retrieved from.  

Meadows, T. (2014). Let’s Play. I Love ABA!. Retrieved from.

Blue Bird Day fosters socialization, sensory regulation, and pre-academic learning in children ages 2-7 years in therapeutic rotations that simulate  preschool and kindergarten settings. Our compassionate therapists practice a relationship-based and family-centered approach, provide parent training, and collaborate on goals and individualized intensive treatment plans for your child.

We believe in a collaborative and multi-disciplinary team approach to therapy. A team of occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, dietitians, developmental therapists, behavioral therapists, physical therapists, and therapeutic assistants are created for each child to ensure child and family are fully supported and the best possible results are achieved.  

Options for individualized, group and virtual therapy sessions are available as well. 

Want to learn more or you have a specific question? Feel free to connect with us here! 

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