A few things to keep in mind while teaching play skills or trying to improve social skills:

  • Free time is a difficult concept for some children with autism. 
  • Remember you will have to teach play skills.  They do not come naturally for many children with autism.
  • Teach the play skills 1:1 first, then incorporate them into a group setting (Moyes, 1997).
  • Use age appropriate games and toys to the extent possible.  If a seven year old without autism likes the game, chances are, your seven year old will have some interest in it too.  You may just have to modify the presentation a little.
  • Find a way to make the game or activity “do-able” for him or her.
  • Have fun.  Your child should want to come to this play area.  If you are not having fun, they are probably not having fun.
  • Try something new like, roller skating (start on a rug or carpet first), tennis, baseball, t-ball, soccer or bowling.
  • Follow your child’s lead and comment on what he or she is interested in. Try not to get too consumed in your own idea of what play should look like.  Focus on the act of attending to the same item at the same time, sharing the same space and being on the “same page”, more than having him or her “play” with the toy in the exact manner for which it was made.
  • If you are going to play, then play.  Try not to drill your child on colors and shapes and numbers, etc. during the play time.  It is okay to comment on these concepts, but keep the play fun and engaging and the opposite of work time. 
  • Find a method to teach the skills they need.  You are the facilitator.  During the beginning stages, try not to leave him/her to “play on his/her own.”