Scroll down to the bottom of the page for our 'Parents Voice'
Play is important for all children. It helps develop language and communication, thinking and problem solving, getting on with others, social interaction and fine and gross motor skills. Children with ASD may have problems with this, but there is a lot you can do to help develop your child's play skills.
All children enjoy playing, but some children with ASD can find some types of play difficult to manage and understand.
It is very common that your child might have very limited play. It might be that they play with only a few toys or play in a repetitive way.
Because ASD affects the development of social skills and communication skills, it can also affect the development of important play skills, like the ability to:
Explore the world around them
Share toys or objects they are playing with
copy simple actions
imagine and understand what other people are thinking and feeling
take turns in a game
Respond to others and their wishes and feelings
But your child can learn and develop the skills needed for play, and you can help. And playing with your child is a great way of connecting with them at their level.
As the autism community knows well, many individuals with autism have difficulty processing and integrating sensory information. These sensitivities can create great barriers to participating in daily life for those with autism and their families.
Many children with autism experience difficulty with everyday sensory stimulation; this can be related to noise, touch, taste textures or a variety of sensitivities. The world around an autistic child is likely to cause anxiousness; this can not only affect the child but also how the you involve them in day-to-day learning activities.
The main areas which people with autism generally have difficulty with are:
Social communication, social interaction and social imagination. This means that a child may struggle to form friendships, will prefer to spend time alone and will struggle to engage in imaginative play and activities alongside their peers.
Creating opportunities for play
Young children engage in types of play, which develop in stages. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) might need extra help at each stage.
Exploring objects and toys rather than playing with them is when children are learning about the world around them. Examples of this can include feeling objects, putting objects in their mouth, looking at and feeling doll's hands. They are learning about different shapes, colours, sizes and textures of things. This is an important part of the learning process. It gives us information about the world and what it is like.
How can you help? - You can model this type of play and encourage him or her to explore the objects around them. Encourage your child to look at objects and feel them - turn them in your hands and see things from different angles. Encourage splashing in the bath and feeling water run through fingers. Let slime run between your fingers etc.
Cause and Effect Play
Playing with toys that need you to do something that will produce an effect. Winding up toys (Jack in the box), toys that involve pressing buttons to make sounds. Pop up toys etc.
This type of play enables your child to learn that their actions cause effects and can give them a greater sense of control over their play.
Your child with ASD might learn to operate toys on his own, through exploratory play, or you might need to show him. Praising your child when he does the right action will encourage him to keep doing it. It will also encourage him to interact with other toys in a cause-and-effect way as well.
Use this kind of play to encourage your child how to ask you for help, and take turns. You could for example, take turns pressing a button to make something pop up and take turns pushing the object down again.
Toy play (or ‘functional’ play)
Playing with toys in the way they were intended to be played with - for example a toy phone being placed near the ear, throwing or kicking a ball, pushing toy cars along the floor etc.
This might be an area of challenge for your child with ASD, the following ideas might help:
Sit in front of your child so he/she can look at you, communicate with you, and see what you’re doing. This also makes it easier to engage her in play.
Offer two or three toys your child enjoys. This gives your child a choice without overwhelming him/her.
Join in, don't try to guide your child. Start by copying what they are doing then add to the activity. Fro example, if they are spinning the wheels on their toy car, then you start by doing the same, then turn the car and start moving it along the floor saying brrm brrm.
Encourage your child to play with you. You could say something like 'Your turn the drive the car'. If they still don't engage then you could gently take your child's hand and place it on the car then move the car along the floor together.
Reward your child. Use praise and positive feedback like ‘You’ve built a big tower. Good job!’. You could also add other rewards, like a couple of turns of blowing bubbles.
Sensory tables can create enough of an open-ended play opportunity to support children of all abilities. Sensory play allows random objects and textures to be included with no set agenda for how they are played with. Investigation and experimentation of this nature provides the perfect environment for children to discover likes and dislikes about the types of toys, textures, sounds and play they like. Anything can be added, so if a child has a preference of toys or objects they can be incorporated too.
Objects also become different things – a plank of wood may be a bridge for a car, a slope for a truck, a drawbridge for the knight or simply a piece of wood at the play table. Allowing children the opportunity to decide creates extremely valuable insight to a childcare provider and, for the autistic child, a means to be involved on their own terms both socially and creatively.
What about windmills, they are great fun because they spin. You can make your own windmills and decorate it how you want.
A table filled with uncooked rice. Colour the rice in different colours and watch as your child mixes them up.
Building and making things. This could be drawing a picture, doing a puzzle, making things or construction with bricks. Some children with ASD may excell at this type of play but others may have delay in this area. You can encourage this type of play by showing what to do. Have fun building towers and knocking them down again. Use pictures and photographs to show what the finished product might look like when making something out of junk material.
Running around and other physical play which helps to provide whole body exercise. It also helps develop gross motor skills. Outside play is great for physical development as well as being great fun. Make time to visit the local park if you can to give your child space to run around and explore. Riding bikes and scooters is a great way of learning coordination as well as being fun. Throwing and catching balls and playing in the playground on the climbing equipment. Lots of way to burn some energy as well as being fun.
Get out the dressing up box and encourage dressing up like a superhero or a pirate or a princess. Encourage your younger child to feed their teddies or dress them and take them to the pretend shops. Pretend to drive a car or sail a boat.
Pretend play is the most sophisticated form of play and usually starts around two years of age. It is very important for developing the skills needed for social relationships, language and communication. For children with ASD there is often a delay in this type of play, but many children with ASD do develop pretend play.
Start with simple pretend actions that your child can learn to use in their pretend play, like driving a car or beating a drum or riding a horse. Once your child can do some pretend actions you can further develop their pretend play by breaking it down into steps.
Try using pictures or written instructions to help your child understand what to do.
Demonstrate pretend play by pretending to be a lion, dog, pirate, king etc.
Draw treasure maps and demonstrate looking for pirate gold
Make your pretend play funny
Act out a familiar story together using and changing the characters voices.
By slowly introducing new themes and gradually changing parts of the play you can help your child gain independence in theri creative dramatic play.
Social play skills for children with autism spectrum disorder can be particularly difficult. You can help by providing support and encouragement.
Making the most of play with your child with autism spectrum disorder
Once your child can play with you and is playing with toys, you can use play to build skills in other areas. For example, you might focus on rewarding certain skills like taking turns, playing for longer periods of time, or choosing a variety of toys to play with.
Talk as you play. If you are doing pretend play use the name of objects and give words to the things that you and your child are doing.
If your child is only speaking with single words, then you use two words. If they are using two words, then you use four words. In this way you are not using words in a way that is too difficult for your child. But you are building up communication skills.
Use different environments for your play. Encourage your child to play the same games at different places like a friends house or the park.
Everyday activities can be opportunities for play. If there is a joint activity between you and your child it is an opportunity for play.
Use play to help your child respond appropriately to social situations that he/she might find challenging, like understanding sharing, turn-taking and understanding others needs.
Have bath time fun
Use play to help develop everyday skills like dressing a doll or teddy and help your child learn to dress himself.
Some children with ASD like motion, and if they can't be moving themselves then they like to watch things that are moving. Watching windmills is a great way of watching movement, so is watching bubbles as they fly through the air. When the bubbles or the windmill is blown, it creates an effect. Cause and effect play is developed.
Beyond sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, the preferred activities generally engaged lesser known senses, particularly the vestibular and proprioception senses –– two senses that correspond to motion through space and joint movement. The observed inclination to engage these faculties supports the idea that children with autism seek to satisfy an insatiable need for kinetic stimuli.
Knowing when to stop or change is also important, so look out for signs of boredom or lack of interest.
Show your child short videos of people playing. This can give her ideas of what she could do with those toys.
Look out for signs that your child is getting bored or losing interest – knowing when to stop or change is important.
Click here to see the National Autistic Society page about sensory differences
First things to remember
Meltdowns are best understood as a panic attack. This is not a battle to be lost or won, but a crisis to manage.
You are the child’s emotional brakes. How you manage the meltdown makes a difference to outcomes.
Separate your relationship with the child from the behaviour.
Emergency rules apply; ‘Don’t hurt yourself, others or damage property’. Do remember that things broken in a meltdown may be replaced or mended, so prioritise safety.
Traditional discipline is largely ineffective for meltdowns, the child is not in a state to learn anything.
Things you can do
Be aware of possible triggers and look for signs that anxiety is rising. Prevention is better than cure.
Keep calm and level at all times. Shouting or getting angry will not help either of you, be careful about your facial expressions and body language. Keep as neutral as possible, be non-confrontational.
Reduce stimuli that may add to a child’s sense of being overwhelmed. Eg turn down the volume of a TV or radio, ask other people to keep quiet and not intervene.
Keep communication to a minimum. Instructions should be short and simple.
It is better to steer a child towards a positive behaviour, rather than give an order to stop a negative one. eg Encourage a child to stand still, rather than tell them to stop running around. Remember that the demand of a direct instruction may increase anxiety for a person with PDA. Therefore a suggestion like “you may feel calmer if you stand still” or a request such as “could you help me and stand stand still for a moment?” may be more successful than a blunt command of “standstill”.
Give emotional and physical space. Take a step backwards from the situation, rather than forward into conflict.
Encourage a child to exit to a safer place. This may be their bedroom, out of a classroom, outside to the garden or playground. Where possible, guide a child rather than using forced removal. Some children may prefer to hide away in a den, under a table, cover themselves over with a duvet or coat.
Don’t threaten sanctions, punishments or offer rewards during a meltdown. The child is beyond reason and unable to respond appropriately. Such interventions are likely to increase anxiety rather than act as an incentive to cease the behaviour. It is a case of ‘can’t’ rather than ‘won’t’.
When they are beginning to calm, it may be helpful to offer verbal reassurances to the child. Younger children may be calmed by a hug. asking them "would you like to hug me until you're better?" gives them control, as well as a sense of safety and security.
Physical intervention should be a last resort and primarily be used to keep the child or others safe.
Be aware of environmental risks. Eg scissors, knives or objects that may be used as a weapon. Other hazards may include glass doors, moving vehicles or proximity to a road.
For children who run away during a meltdown, provided there are no safety concerns, following at a distance can be a better strategy rather than chasing after them.
Important During a meltdown there may be risks to other people. Parents may wish to consider placing themselves between their child and another person. From age 10 (England and Wales) a child has criminal responsibility.
After a meltdown
At the very least, children will need time to recompose, their ‘safe place’ is a good place to do this.
A snack or a drink may help a child calm down and recover.
Reassure the child that it’s all over. They may need to hear that you still like/love them. Let them know you understand that they could not help their behaviour.
Try to forget what has happened and start afresh.
Some children will be very upset by what they have done. They may express remorse or be angry with themselves.
Some children can find it helpful to talk about the incident, this can provide insight into triggers and causes. However, this kind of debriefing can be too stressful for many and may precipitate another meltdown.
From Someone who knows the pains and the pleasures.
When I tell people my daughter is Autistic the usual responses which are understandable but a little frustrating are:
"You can't tell"
"Like rain man?"
"I've heard of autism but I don't really know much about it"
Some Facts and Statistics
🔹Only 15% of autistic adults are in full term employment
🔹50% of autistic adults live with parents
🔹In the UK more than 1 in 100 children are diagnosed with autism but only 1 in 5 of those are girls
🔹60% of teachers do not feel adequately trained in autism
🔹Fewer than 1 in 4 people with autism stay on to higher education
🔹34% of autistic children say the worst thing about school is being picked on
🔹Up to 25% of autistics are classed as non verbal
🔹Autistics have a 2.5 times higher chance of premature death, with epilepsy as the leading cause
🔹A younger sibling of an autistic child has a 1 in 5 chance of being autistic, rising to 1 in 3 for the third child if two siblings are autistic
🔹Although 55% of autistics have learning difficulties of some sort, The presence of savant (genius) abilities in autistics is more than 10%, but less than 1% in neurotypicals
🔹Autism is a spectrum disorder and no two cases are the same
🔹People all around us inc uk and USA are voluntarily giving their children bleach enemas until they are sick and the lining of their intestines are burnt away in the moronic belief Autism is caused by parasites, and they are curing it. This is really happening and it's not uncommon!
🔹Many families in UK, USA etc are paying huge sums for creams and injections of unapproved substances in the belief it is a miracle cure along with numerous supplements and highly restrictive diets. Funnily enough the same potions are also supposedly a cure for HIV and Cancer.
🔹Although the help we have had so far is fantastic, some current treatments for Autism in France are barbaric and still include wrapping a naked child in frozen towels all except their mouth for up to an hour, or putting them in a dark room naked with a pool in the middle with no explanation and watched. Many schools will not accept autistic children despite the law and many autistic children are removed from their families and institutionalised even against their parents wishes
🔹Many Autistics do not produce the usual levels of melatonin and have trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep, which can be tiring for them and their families.
🔹Autism is not a visible disability
🔹When Bella was diagnosed at Southampton hospital last July I was told that even if we still lived there, there is no budget to give us any assistance in behavioural therapy or OT etc and that short of emailing and charities we were on our own.
🔹There are now different forms of ABA and I can see some gentle forms are useful for some families. I do recognise that to get by some behaviours are not acceptable even if they are not understood, and some behaviours must be learned even if they are not understood. (Ie to wear some sort of clothes in public and not hit) However, if someone tells you their child was "cured" of autism through ABA please know it is likely they have been through years of gruelling lessons likened to puppy training, sometimes even using a clicker, with rewards and punishments to force them to learn our social behaviours. Autistics tell of long hours for years with one hand tied behind their back, or tied to a chair, with food rewards if they shook someone's hand enough times without flinching or stimming. To me this is the same as forcing a gay man to pretend he isn't in order not to embarrass or offend the straight community. It is highly offensive to me. I would not change my child for the world, I wish the world was genuinely an easier place for her but never that she should pretend it is at the expense of her own mental health, just for show.
🔹the puzzle pieces in the autism logo represent the complexity and lack of understanding of autism, and the rainbow colours signify the diversity of people affected, and hope.
Myths about Autism
🔸Autistics have no emotions
🔸Autistics cannot smile or make eye contact
🔸Autistics do not have a sense of humour
🔸Autistics are stupid
🔸Autistics are all like "rain man"
🔸Autistism is increasing at an alarming rate and it must be down to jabs/pesticides/junk food/bad parenting/something the mother did wrong in pregnancy/whatever they decide the new magic cause is next week
🔸Although "Autism Speaks" is one of largest Autism organisations, it is my personal belief it is not the best. It seems they spend the majority of the funds people have earned for them on finding a "cure" for autism and trying to find a way to wipe it out rather than supporting autistic people and their families. Many autistic people do not feel fairly treated or represented by Autism Speaks. Therefore, although I support autism awareness month I do not support the "light it up blue" theme that autism speaks started, and I prefer to refer to the National Autistic Society for info.
Common traits of Autism
🔹Unusual behaviours and "stims" (rocking, hand flapping, fidgeting, closing eyes or looking away, repeating phrases, etc) usually as a way to cope or trying to communicate
🔹Sensory sensitivity to tastes, smells, sights, sounds and touch. This may mean an autistic person struggles to feel comfortable in clothes, that hairbrushes may feel as if they are burning, that smells, bright lights, background noises, and busy streets may feel as overwhelming as constantly being at a rock concert while trying to sit an exam. Autistics are often seekers or avoiders of certain stimuli and may benefit from a sensory diet. For some children just a few minutes bouncing on a trampoline results in a calmer, more concentrated child. Deep pressure can also be helpful but light or uninvited touch will often not be welcomed.
🔹Obsession, routine and repetition are important.
Autistic people often have rigid ideas, or OCD, and have to follow to their usual routines in order to feel in control and comfortable. This is just a more extreme version of all human nature where we tend to pick the same seating in a pub each visit and like to have a roast every weekend. We like it, it's comfortable. Some autistic people have obsessions or special interests in certain things.
🔹Anxiety is often a huge element in an autistic persons life. I wish I could help Bella with this more.
🔹Trouble organising and sequencing. An autistic brain takes in more information than a neurotypical one day and night. It's no wonder autistic people get overwhelmed, burned out and exhausted. Trying to determine what information is important and relevant to respond appropriately is hard work and not automatic for an autistic.
🔹Challenging behaviour when overwhelmed
And Struggling with change. Autistics often have a stronger fight or flight response than a neurotypical person. They are on red alert with high levels of cortisone all the time. They may hit out or self harm or run away or hide when they are feeling overwhelmed, in a bid to avoid a total shutdown.
🔹Autistic people often have trouble with social interactions. The subtle non verbal social cues we take for granted that teach us how to behave and respond to fit in are not automatically picked up by an autistic person. It does not necessarily mean they are not interested or don't care.
What you can do
🔸Accept that an autistic child is not "just being naughty" and they will not "grow out of it" A selective eater will not in fact simply "eat when they get hungry". They are not giving their parents a hard time they are HAVING a hard time, and it is nothing to do with lack of parenting skills.
🔸Autism is a difference not an illness, there is no "cure"
🔸Unlike a tantrum, a person having a meltdown is not in control, is not aware of their personal safety, and is not after attention or gain. They are overloaded and need to re set. If you see an autistic person having a meltdown pls don't stare, either carry on with your day or ask if you can help.
🔸Autistics need routine. For autistic families Spontaneity and surprises are seldom possible. New people, places, crowds, bright lights and eating out all cause great anxiety. We have usually planned and discussed arrangements hours or even days in advance to make them possible. If you make plans with us please try to stick to them, and if we keep turning down your invitations pls do not think badly of us or give up on us. We are doing our best.
🔸Pls try including our autistic children in your party plans or play dates. We will happily bring food or come for a shorter stay during a quieter period to make it work.
🔸Autistics take longer to process information because they take in so much more information all the time than neurotypicals, and struggle to filter and prioritise it. If you don't get an answer straight away try counting to 8 in your head before you repeat yourself or you'll just reset the process.
🔸visual cues, planners and timers can ease transitions and give comfort and reassurance.
🔸Many autistics are very literal. It is best to say why you mean and mean what you say, and avoid vague figures of speech where possible.
🔸Many autistics wander. If you see a young autistic away from home alone please question if they have wandered and help them get home safely or get in touch with their family.
🔸some autistics will only show certain behaviours to those closest to them and bottle up their anxiety inside until they burst. Please don't assume that what you see is the whole story.
Autism to me💗
Autism isn't an illness Bella caught to get rid of, it is part of who she is and I know she was always going to be this way.
Autistic people see the world in a different way it's true, and often that way is superb. Bella's eye for detail is fantastic, she sees beauty everywhere. Although she can only bear to eat about 16 different foods, she finds a level of joy in things that I've never known before and it is contagious, she is loved everywhere she goes, my ray of sunshine. Bella is troubled by new places and is a true home bird but she loves people and has a real affinity with animals. She has never told a lie and she is chokka full of information, she will tell you she is smart! Although she cannot yet dress herself or fully feed herself or peddle a bike, she knew the alphabet and could count to 20 by 20 months old and she taught herself to read fluently by 3.5years. (She likes to read my texts and trip advisor reviews) Bella cannot cope with some loud noises like vacuum cleaners and hand dryers and she finds it difficult to understand and express her emotions and triggers, but she never gives up. She fights anxiety and takes on each challenge with fiercesome force and bravery, and she is the most loving, strong person I have ever met, with as much to teach as she has to learn. Every day she puts on a brave face to the world and falls apart when we get home. Every day I spend time rocking and reassuring my inconsolable little girl who feels unable to leave the house, to get dressed, to eat, to play with other children, who at times cannot even open her eyes or speak, even to me. Every day she is petrified by a tiny fly or an unexpected noise, every day she is overwhelmed by our busy world even in rural France. Some days I am hit and kicked (behaviour shown only to immediate family) and every single night I'm up numerous times because of night terrors and because my baby doesn't know how to switch off. Every day we must stick to a strict plan and I coax her out from under the sofa if something unexpected happens. Every day I am exhausted and realise people just don't "get it". Every day i am smothered with love and affection in a different way and made to feel like a hero by this little girl and her angelic face. Everyday I revel in her laughter and her protection over her baby sister and her incredible wit. Every day I feel blessed and I wouldn't change a thing.
Some people's life with autism is harder than ours, some easier, each different.
❗️I think autism awareness is great, but awareness and ACCEPTANCE is what we really need.
— feeling proud.