The Importance of that Missing Piece: Pretend Play

Children with autism often show some appropriate play skills, such as gross motor activities (running, climbing, jumping), but they often have delays in skills like pretend play.  This can affect many things: language development, social skills, interactive skills, the ability to communicate with peers, and vocabulary.  Early intervention is extremely important in filling those gaps as soon as possible.  

As an example, Lucas wouldn't play with toy animals, so he still doesn't consistently name animals he sees, he doesn't seem to know what the animals "say", and he doesn't know where they live.  Now, we could sit down and memorize some books to learn about these things in an academic way, or I might be able to reach him with play scheme videos.  

One therapy strategy is video rehearsal.  This can be used at any age and for a variety of purposes.  In this case, it can be used to demonstrate functional play with toys.  This can be done individually or with a peer to demonstrate self-guided play and interactive play.  

Here are some examples of play scheme social videos recorded with my daughter, Emma.  Children with autism or other delays in pretend play can watch videos to learn how to functionally play with toys...and with peers.  It can be an effective tool to use, as many children and adults with autism are more successful with technology-based intervention strategies than they are with live people teaching them play skills.


Playing Ball with a Friend




In this example, we are using a ball and demonstrating how to join a peer, how to interact with a peer, and how to finish playing.




Feeding the Baby with a Friend


In this example, we are using a baby doll and pretend food to demonstrate how to join a peer, how to interact with a peer, and how to finish playing. 

Feeding the Baby by Myself




In this example, I am using a baby doll and pretend food to demonstrate how to engage in pretend play with toys by myself.

Playing Cars with a Friend


In this example, we are using toy cars to demonstrate how to join a peer, how to interact with a peer, and how to finish playing. 

Another part of play that can be difficult for children with autism is lack of structure and lack of a clear start/finish.  This is something that can be provided.  You could use a timer, physically arrange your materials so that when items are moved, they are "finished" (example: putting pieces into a puzzle makes the puzzle finished).  These types of strategies help ease anxiety and help children understand what they are expected to do during play.  Otherwise, some children wander around and/or become distressed because they don't understand the concept of "free play".  You could certainly incorporate a visual schedule if needed.  

Scholarly Information on Video Modeling
Evidence Based Practice for Video Modeling
Computer Based and Rob-Assisted Therapies to Aid Social and Intellectual Functioning of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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