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Child Autism - A Plea to Play

Aug 17, 2007
I have used elements of many different approaches over the years, but the one that I've found makes the biggest difference with young children with autism is simply that of playing.

Parents are biologically adapted to respond to their developing infants' needs, we almost cannot help but engage in baby-talk when confronted with a small child. However, interactions with infants are very much two-way events.

For some of us, playing is natural and we make no apologies for it, for me it is the most effective way of developing relatedness with a child and it is FUN!

When a parent interacts with a normally developing infant, the infant is as much a participant in that interaction as the adult, a kind of dance. However, studies have shown that children with autism do not provide their adult partner with the expected kind of participation.

Without an appropriate partner in the dance, parents may not know quite what to do, and as this gets repeated over and over again, the quality of the interactions may diminish. Parents of children with ASD should be aware of this issue and compensate for their child's lack of appropriate participation.

When children are enjoying spending time with you, they will come and initiate interactions with you. This is true for the great majority of children with autism as it is for normally developing children. Once they are coming to you, you can then start to scaffold their learning, and you will find teaching other things will be easier because now you have their attention and trust.

However, over the years I have worked with many colleagues who just don't find playing natural, they feel much more comfortable "teaching" something. If this sounds like you, then my plea is this: play first, other stuff can wait.

My personal experience has shown me that this works. I urge you try it for yourself. Play with your child just for the sake of playing and see what opens up. However, make sure that you are enjoying yourself, don't harbor any nagging thoughts that you should be "teaching" something instead.

Relax, you will be "teaching". You are teaching your child that you are worth spending time with, and that hanging out with you is more interesting than spending time on their own.

Children with autism by definition have difficulty with social interaction. Isn't it wonderful to teach them to interact with people (you initially), in such a joyous way?
About the Author
Alan Yau heads up the Autistic unit at a primary school in North London in
the UK where he is responsible for teaching 18 children across the whole Autistic
spectrum. See http://www.teaching-children-with-autism.com
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