Play fosters children's development intellectually, socially, emotionally, physically and creatively. When children explore their surroundings through play, they help maintain an optimum level of arousal to their central nervous system. Environments lacking proper stimuli create boredom within the individual, whereas too much stimulation from the environment creates uncertainty and chaos. When children engage in play, they feel a certain amount of pleasure - in other words, it is said to be intrinsically motivated.

As children develop, the way in which they use materials changes from functional to constructive, then on to dramatic, and finally games with rules.
Functional play occurs when the child uses the materials in simple, repetitive, and exploratory ways.  During constructive play children use materials to achieve a specific goal. When children pretend with items, they are engaged in dramatic play.

While children are engaged in solitary, parallel, associative or cooperative play,
various social interactions occur.  Younger children most often engage in solitary play, however older children may prefer to play alone for brief periods of time to develop their own thinking and ideas. Parallel play involves children playing beside each other, but not necessarily with one another. Associative play involves common materials being shared among children. When children plan, assign roles and play together it is referred to as cooperative play.

In order for children to receive optimum learning and developmental opportunities through play, much thought must be given to how these experiences will be structured. Observing the child's current stages of development and assessing his/her needs is the first priority. Functioning levels are then evaluated in order to establish appropriate objectives for the specific child.   Adequate materials, equipment, time, and space must be provided and rules established.  The effective assistant must know when it is appropriate to observe, participate, initiate, imitate or intervene in the autistic child's experiences.


Low-functioning non-verbal autistic children spend much of their time engaged in solitary play, and may even adjust their body posture to exclude others from
their personal space. When autistic children play, they may occasionally
request help from an adult to complete a task, however they show no interest in socially interacting with them.  They seldom imitate the actions of others, or engage in spontaneous or functional play.  When given an object, much of their play will be repetitive with intense fixations on one small part of the object, rather than exploring the relationship between cause and effect.  If autistic children are left alone to play, repetitive self-stimulating actions will increase. Because these children enjoy patterns of movement, their attention may be held for longer periods of time while playing with dirt, water or spinning objects. Although it is a constant challenge, these children may be drawn out of their isolation by presenting them a mix of repeated play experiences and novel ideas. During play experiences, the assistant must take full advantage of the short time
while the child is focused, and intervene in order to extend play beyond a fleeting notion. Due to these brief learning experiences, autistic children take
longer than other children to progress through the stages of development.

Suggestions of activities for non verbal autistic children:

-  Maintain close proximity to child (2-4 ft.) to help keep them focused
-  Provide toys which usually interest babies and toddlers
-  Display materials in low open shelving, group according to play categories
-  Place all the items for one activity in a workbasket, place it on the table beside
   the child, then have the child place the completed task in the basket  (This
   indicates a definite start and finish to each task)
-  Use white glue to outline simple lined drawings, and allow it to dry - this will
   provide a raised edge for the child to color within borders
-  Provide construction sets which are easily put together, assist the child in holding
   the item while putting it together.  Later on encourage bilateral grasp at the
-  Use two adults (one behind and one to guide his hands) to assist the child to catch
   and throw a ball.  Use a large soft ball, as it is easier than a smaller one.
-  Games of hide and seek can be engaged in (using two adults - one to cover the
   child's eyes and take him out of the room and one to hide the object) if the child
   has come to realize that objects exist even though they are hidden.  The assistants
   must help the child search for the favorite item and searches must be very brief.
-  Include these children in very simple games with peers for very brief periods of
   time during outside play or gym times.
-  Walk along gym lines to assist in establishing boundaries
-  During walks, lightly hold the child's forearm and walk between the child and
   opened doorways.
-  Invite a peer to come and participate in a short simple activity with the child such
   as taking turns at placing pieces in a wooden puzzle.  The assistant must be close
   to initiate play and negotiate turn taking.
-  When attempting to teach tasks involving wooden inlay puzzles, tape all the pieces
    in with the exception of one, then gradually leave more out as the child becomes
    more proficient.
-  When attempting to teach fine motor tasks such as the use of a primary pencil,
   draw 2 dark parallel lines approximately 2" apart on a long strip of paper
   to indicate boundaries.  Have the child trace over pre-drawn wave or zig-zag
-  Secure coloring page to desktop by taping it along the corners
-  While teaching cutting skills, simplify task by having the child snip through 1"
    wide strips of manilla paper (construction paper slides)


(Developmental age -18-24 months/Chronological Age - 7  years)

Balls                                (Kick, Roll, Catch, Throw, Bounce)
Barrel of Monkeys
Beanbag Toss
Bike Riding
Bingo Markers
Blocks                             (Colored, Wooden Alphabet, Unit Blocks)
Blowing                          (Cotton Balls, Feathers, Pinwheel, Cardboard Rolls)
Body Awareness
Books                              (Cassette Stories/Books, Electronic, Picture Books, Pop Up)
Bottles                             (Screw Lids)
Bus and People              (push)
Cards  (Deck)
Clay                                  (Air Dry Molding Clay/ roll, squeeze, pat)
Climbing                          (Playground/Stairs/Jungle Gym/Large Waffle Blocks)
Cloth Toys
Clothes                             (practise putting on outside clothes, socks, shoes)
Coloring                           (Large Wax Crayons/Markers on large outlined picture)
Cutting                              (Child size scissors, 1" wide manilla strips)
Doll Play
Drawing                            (primary pencil)
Large Play Centres
Folding                              (Envelopes/Paper)
Gravel                                (Colored Aquarium rocks/small sandbox shovel/
                                             small containers)
Gym                                   (Running, Simple games with peers, walking along lines)
Hole Punch
Hula Hoops
Lacing                                 (Cardboard Shapes/Shoe laces)
Lite Brite
Magnetic Letters
Magnifying Glass
Mat Play
Mega Blocks
Mr. Potato Head
Musical Toys                   (ball, phone, shakers, sticks, xylophone, tamborine)
Nesting Cubes/cups
Obstacle Course
Painting                            (brushes,finger, marbles, sponge)
Paper                                (tearing/wadding)
Pull Toys
Puzzles                            (Foam, wooden, large piece)
Sanding Wood
See and Say
Sensory Box
Sewing Card
Shape Desrimination Ball
Silly Putty
Skipping Rope Pull
Snap Rings
Snap Teddies
Songs                                (Action,Fingerplays,Listening Center)
Sorting                              (Color, Object Function, Shape, Size, Sounds)
Stamps/Stamp Pad
Twist and Turn
Velco Strips
Viewers                            (Kaliedoscope)
Waffle Blocks
Water play                       (Bubbles, Pouring into containers, sponges, toys, dishes)
Wind Up Toys
Wire Tracking Boards


Background Information /  Programming /  Behaviors / Daily Living Skills /
Communication /  Sensory Integration /   Home Page