The Importance of Teaching Play Skills in ABA Therapy

The importance of teaching play skills in ABA TherapyThe Importance of Teaching Play Skills in ABA Therapy

When children play alone, or with others, they aren’t just having fun. They’re learning and developing essential skills they’ll use far into the future. Play skills help kids develop their imagination, grow their problem-solving skills, and enhance their communication skills. 

But when children with autism play, it may not look the same as other children’s. Because their brains are wired a little differently than neurotypical children’s, kids with autism often lack the desire or ability to communicate and engage with others during playtime.

The importance of play skills in child development is essential for all children. That’s why kids with ASD benefit from play-based ABA therapy. This form of autism therapy can help improve their focus, social skills, communication skills, and academic skills. And they can do it all while having fun and developing crucial play skills.

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What Playtime May Look Like for Children with Autism

It’s normal for toddlers and young children to play alone. But, typically, by the age of 2 or 3 years old, they graduate to “parallel” playing. This means they engage in the same activity as another child simultaneously, like putting together a puzzle or sharing an activity. 

But children with autism often lack the play skills they need to be able to engage in parallel playing. Instead, they get “stuck” developmentally and continue playing alone. While playing alone, they often engage in activities that seemingly have no purpose since they have trouble using their imaginations. 

Some of the most common examples parents see their child with autism do while “playing” include: 

Young boy lining up race cars

  • lining up toys in the same order repeatedly
  • stacking objects in the same pattern over and over again, and knocking them over
  • completing the same puzzle the same way repeatedly
  • tossing leaves or sand into the air over and over when outside

When children with autism get a little older, their play skills may get a little better, allowing them to understand rules while playing games. However, many parents still notice they have trouble in certain areas. 

Older children with autism may not be able to:

  • cope with changes to the rules or who is playing
  • share games with others
  • play a game in its entirety after becoming laser-focused on a single aspect of it

The good news is, teaching play skills is possible through ABA therapy. And our team of autism experts here at The Autism Therapy Group is ready to help!

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What Play-Based ABA Therapy Looks Like

A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) highlights the importance of play skills. The findings revealed playing enhances the brain structure and function of children. Play also promotes executive functioning skills, allowing children to play to achieve a goal while avoiding distractions. 

In line with this study’s findings, our play-based ABA therapy focuses on helping children learn valuable play skills during each in-home or clinic-based session. Your child’s RBT will alternate between play and work, so your child benefits from both. 

When your child comes into our ABA center in Lombard, IL, or your child’s RBT comes to your home, they’ll first set up any learning tools.  Your child’s individualized therapy plan will include both structured and free play during each session to encourage learning opportunities while allowing fun, flexibility, and socialization. 

Structured Play

When teaching play skills using structured play, your child’s RBT will use teaching exercises to generate a specific response. Structured play is typically a physical or cognitive activity led by the RBT. For example, your child may be asked to complete a challenging puzzle while being guided and directed by their therapist. 

Structured play helps your child learn valuable early play skills such as sharing, interacting with others, and taking turns. Because this form of play-based ABA therapy uses clear guidelines about what your child needs to do, it’ll help them understand the steps, skills, and activities required to achieve the end goal. 

Free Play

Young boy playing

Free play is just what it sounds like – open-ended playtime where your child chooses what they want to do. Your child’s curiosity is encouraged during free play, as they self-guide themselves through any of the toys and teaching tools their therapist brought along. 

Teaching play skills using free play is an excellent way for your child’s RBT to explore how they interact with others. They’ll also be able to encourage play skills across different settings and increase their physical activity. It’s also an excellent way for your child’s RBT to get to know their likes and dislikes. 

Benefits of Play-Based ABA Therapy

There are several benefits to ABA therapy on its own. As the most studied and proven autism therapy treatment, ABA therapy can help your child achieve their full potential. One of the reasons it’s so effective is play during each session. When your child is playing, they’ll almost forget they’re working!

Play-based ABA therapy:

  • Promotes natural reinforcement versus contrived motivators: Because your child’s RBT teaches play skills through playing, the whole ABA therapy experience becomes more positive. And when your child has a positive therapy experience, their sessions are more productive and more likely to last longer. 
  • Increases generalization: The importance of play-based ABA therapy is most evident in allowing your child to generalize almost anything they work on in their sessions. But perhaps most important, they’re able to generalize communication and social goals. 

While playing during their session, your child and their RBT can mimic events they experience in their everyday lives. And when they learn through playing, they can easily transfer those new skills to their day-to-day interactions. 

  • Builds social skills: Whether learning play skills at home during their sessions, in our center with their RBT, or group sessions, playing opens up opportunities to interact with others. And that can help them grow and learn their social skills. 

Young child playing

Make Therapy Fun With ABA Therapy From the Autism Therapy Group

We have over ten years of working with children with autism. Of course, we’ve always focused on offering the best autism therapy services in Lombard, IL, and beyond. We’ve also always understood the importance of play and having fun during learning. 

We’re here for you if you’re looking to help your child learn the communication, social, personal, academic, behavioral, and play skills they need to live a happy, fulfilling life. Whether you’re looking for in-home ABA therapy or want to take advantage of our beautiful Lombard clinic, your child will get the skills they need to succeed. 

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