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The Importance of Play for Autistic Children


What is play?

Play can be anything. It can be building a wall with some plastic building bricks and in turn developing those important fine motor skills that help children learn how to write. It can be climbing the equipment in a playground and learning how to take risks and develop gross motor skills. And it can be falling out with a peer over who has the green colouring crayon and learning those really important social and language/communication skills.

Simply put, play is a fantastic way to learn. Not only because it can help children develop a whole range of important skills but it’s also brilliant for children’s emotional wellbeing because by definition, play is fun.

How can children learn through play?

We can make use of the power of play by weaving learning into play-based activities. For example, if you have a child in your care who needs some extra help developing their speech, language, and communication skills, you can create play-based activities that provide opportunities for children to practise these skills.

Learning through play for autistic children

Things to remember:

  • Everyone is unique. It’s so important to remember that every child, regardless of their special educational need, is unique. What works for one child may not necessarily work for another.
  • When planning activities to help children learn through play we need to think about the specific children, not their diagnosis. What do they enjoy doing? What do they dislike? What skills do they need some support with? Which resources would the benefit from?
  • Be led by the child. Some autistic children (and their neurotypical peers) may have special interests. These may be specific things they are really interested in. This could be dinosaurs, superheroes, horses, puppies…anything.
  • If they are happy for you to do so, try incorporating any special interests into the children’s play-based learning. For example, if you’re practising counting to 20 and the child you are working with loves aeroplanes. Why not use little toy aeroplanes as your counters?
  • Play is meant to be fun. By definition, play is supposed to be enjoyable and being led by the child isn't just tailoring play-based activities around their interests, it’s also being mindful of how they like to play. Play isn’t the same for everyone. Let children show you how they like to play.

Play together in a way that they enjoy

Consider sensory play. Some autistic children (and their neurotypical peers) may benefit from and enjoy sensory play, and sensory toys for autism. Sensory play is play that uses any of the senses, for example touch or sight. Sensory play can be particularly useful for children who are feeling overwhelmed as a way to find calm. Children can also develop a whole range of skills through sensory play activities.

For example, water play can be relaxing for children, and it also offers opportunities for motor development (pouring and filling containers), social skills (sharing resources) and concentration.

Source: Learning Resources


Browse our sensory fidget toys to help children learn through sensory play.

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  • Chenne Daig