Teaching Play Skills: Fun ABA Activities for Toddlers with Autism

learning through play parenting with aba Jul 09, 2024
The Behavior Place Play


Play is not only fun, but also essential for a toddler's development. However, teaching play skills to children with autism can sometimes be challenging. In this "how-to" guide, we'll explore fun and effective activities that parents can easily implement at home to help their toddlers  develop essential play skills. These activities are designed to be engaging, enjoyable, and tailored to support your child's unique needs.

Step 1: Start with Simple Activities

Begin by introducing your child to simple activities that are easy to understand and engaging. This could include playing with blocks, stacking cups, or sorting shapes. Start with activities that match your child's current skill level and gradually increase the complexity as they progress. You could also roll a ball back and forth, or play with sensory bins filled with rice or water. These activities promote fine and gross motor skills, social interaction, and sensory exploration.

Step 2: Use Visual Supports

Visual supports, such as visual schedules, picture cards, and visual timers, can help your child understand the sequence of activities and what is expected of them during playtime. Use visual supports to structure play sessions and provide clear guidance for your child. Create a visual schedule for playtime with pictures or symbols representing different activities, such as building blocks, playing with toys, or reading a book. Use visual timers to indicate how long each activity will last.

Step 3: Incorporate Structured Play

Structured play involves providing your child with clear instructions and expectations during playtime. Set specific goals for each play session, such as taking turns, imitating actions, or completing simple tasks. For example, you could play a turn-taking game with your child, such as rolling a ball back and forth or taking turns stacking blocks. Use prompts and reinforcement to support your child's engagement and participation.

Step 4: Use Prompting and Shaping

Prompting involves providing cues or assistance to help your child engage in the desired play behavior. Start with least-to-most prompting, where you offer minimal assistance initially and gradually increase support if needed. For example, if your child is learning to stack blocks but is struggling, you might provide assistance to help them stack the blocks. It's important to fade out your prompts when your child becomes more independent. An example of fading out your prompts would be assisting your child to stack only the first few blocks, and then allowing them to stack the remaining blocks independently. Shaping involves reinforcing successive approximations of the target behavior, gradually shaping it toward the desired play skill. For example, if your child is learning to use a toy car, you might initially reinforce any attempt to reach for the car, then reinforce touching the car, and finally reinforce pushing the car along the floor.

Step 5: Provide Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is essential for motivating and reinforcing desired play behaviors. Praise your child for their efforts and successes during playtime, and offer rewards such as stickers, tokens, or special activities for completing play tasks or reaching play goals. For example, if your child successfully completes a puzzle, you could praise them and offer a small reward, such as big hugs or extra playtime with a favorite toy.

Step 6: Follow Your Child's Lead

Follow your child's interests and preferences during playtime, and use these as opportunities to teach new skills. Observe what activities your child enjoys and incorporate them into structured play sessions. This not only increases motivation but also fosters a positive play experience for your child. For example, if your child loves playing with toy cars, you could use car-themed activities to teach turn-taking, counting, or color recognition.

Step 7: Be Patient and Persistent

Teaching play skills takes time and patience, so be prepared to practice regularly and persistently. Celebrate small victories and progress along the way, and remember that every child learns at their own pace. Stay positive and supportive, and enjoy the journey of watching your child grow and learn through play.

Teaching play skills to toddlers with autism can be both rewarding and enjoyable with the right approach. By incorporating fun and engaging activities into your child's playtime, you can help them develop essential skills while fostering a love for learning and exploration. Remember to start with simple activities, use visual supports, provide structured play opportunities, use prompting and shaping techniques, provide positive reinforcement, follow your child's lead, and be patient and persistent. With dedication and support, you can empower your child to learn through play.


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