Why Autistic Children Play Differently

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This often happens if your child has autism and is unable or unwilling to play typical childhood games. Few children with autism play "like other children" and many participate in activities that do not resemble normal play.

This can make life difficult for parents trying to find games and activities for their children. It can even be difficult to know how to play with your child .

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What Makes Autistic Play Different?

Children with autism play differently from other children. Even at a very young age, children with autism are more likely than their typical peers to build objects, play alone, and repeat the same actions over and over again. Also, they are less likely to participate in games that require "fictitious" cooperation or social interaction .

Of course, many non-autistic children build objects, play alone, or prefer other activities to imagination. But while children with autism seem unaware of the actions and preferences of others, typical children mimic their peers to learn new play skills, collaborate with others, and ask questions when confused.

Typical children who play alone usually do so for a specific reason and may join in the game when they are ready or encouraged to do so.

If your child feels like he doesn't know other children or feels like he can't learn new play skills through observation, social interaction, or verbal communication, this could be a sign of autism.

These are some of the differences to keep in mind:

  • Preference for playing alone most of the time (even when participation in typical forms of gambling is encouraged)
  • Inability or unwillingness to learn the basic rules for playing together (sequence, role play, following the rules of a sport or board game)
  • Participating in activities that seem pointless and repetitive (opening / closing doors, lining up objects, flushing the toilet, etc.)
  • Inability or unwillingness to respond to friendly suggestions from adults or peers.
  • Obvious disregard for the behavior or words of other children (wandering around the group without realizing they are involved in a game, climbing a slide without realizing there is a line, etc.)
  • Obvious inability to internalize the basic concepts of symbolic play (pretending to be someone else or pretending that the toy has human characteristics, etc.)

What does a game with autism look like

Although it is common for young children to participate in single-player games from time to time, most of them quickly transition to "parallel" play, in which more than one child participates in the same activity at the same time (two children are coloring in the same coloring book, for example) .

By the age of 2 to 3, most children are already playing together, doing business, or interacting with each other to achieve a goal.

Young children with autism often get caught up in the early types of solitary play or participate in activities with no obvious meaning or purpose.

Here are some scenarios that may sound familiar to parents with young children or toddlers on the autism spectrum :

  • The child stands in the yard and throws leaves, sand, or dirt into the air over and over again.
  • The child solves the same puzzle over and over in the same way.
  • Child places objects in the same pattern and knocks them over or gets angry if someone else knocks them down.
  • The child orders the toys in the same order over and over again, with no apparent sense in the chosen order.

As children with autism grow, their skills improve. Children who can learn the rules of the game often do. However, when this happens, their behavior is still slightly different from other children. For example, they can:

  • They are so tied to the rules that they cannot cope with the necessary changes in the number of players, the size of the playing field, etc.
  • They find it impossible to share games with other children (video games can become an obsession with loneliness)
  • Focus on the peripheral aspect of the game (collecting soccer stats without watching or playing).

Why do children with autism find it difficult to play?

Why do children with autism play differently? Most of them face serious problems that stand between them and typical social interaction. Among these problems are the following.

Lack of imitation skills.

Developing children typically observe and imitate others who play with toys. For example, a normally developing child may line up blocks next to each other when playing with them for the first time. But as soon as a typically developing child sees others building with bricks, the child will imitate this behavior.

A child with autism may not even be aware that others are playing with blocks, and is unlikely to observe the behavior of others and then intuitively begin to mimic this behavior.

Lack of token play skills

Symbolic play is just another term for pretend play, and by age 3, most children have developed fairly sophisticated tools to engage in symbolic play both alone and with others.

They can use toys exactly the way they are designed: play 'house' with an imaginary kitchen and eat plastic food. Or they can come up with their own creative role play, turning a box into a fortress or a stuffed animal into a talking playmate.

Children with autism rarely develop symbolic play skills without help. They may enjoy installing motors on rails, but they are unlikely to act out scenes, create sound effects, or pretend to be toy trains unless they are actively taught and encouraged to do so.

Even when children with autism participate in symbolic play, they can repeat the same scenarios over and over again, using the same words and even the same tone of voice.

Lack of social communication skills.

To be successful in simulation and imitation, developing children generally actively seek participation and communication and quickly learn to "read" the intentions of others.

Children with autism tend to be self-centered and have little desire or ability to communicate or interact with their playmates. Peers may find this behavior offensive ("You are ignoring me!") Or they may simply ignore the child with autism. In some cases, children with autism are bullied, despised, or ostracized.

Lack of joint attention skills

Shared attention skills are skills that we use when we do something with another person. People use joint attention skills when they play together, solve puzzles together, or think and work in pairs or groups.

Joint attention skills are often impaired in people with autism. While these skills can be taught, they may never develop on their own.

Gaming skills training

If lack of play skills is a possible symptom of autism, can a child with autism be taught to play? In many cases, the answer is yes. In fact, some therapeutic approaches focus primarily on the formation and restoration of play skills, and parents (and siblings) can play an active role in this process. This includes:

All of these techniques can be used by parents, therapists, or teachers, and they can all be helpful. However, none of them are covered by any warranty; While some children with autism develop strong play skills, others find the task too difficult.

For most parents, the best way to start is to attract and assist a qualified therapist who can provide guidance and support.

Frequently asked questions

  • Children with autism often enjoy sensory toys because they help calm them down and positively engage their feelings. Sensory toys can include heavy stuffed animals, fussy toys, and putty. When looking for a toy for a child with autism, consider his interests and developmental stage.

  • One of the symptoms of autism is limited repetitive behavior. This includes practices like lining up toys or repeatedly touching objects in the same order.

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