Do you try to play with your child but often find that they either continues to play their own game while ignoring you, or maybe they just get up and leave as soon as you show up. This can be frustrating for any parent (or professional).
Children with a diagnosis of autism or those awaiting formal diagnosis often can have repetitive or unusual play. This can make it very difficult for adults or caregivers to engage in play with them. Common difficulties can typically arise around interrupting games, turn-taking and understanding symbolic play. If you are facing these challenges it is beneficial to have strategies to put in place that will help you get some wonderful engaging play routines.
How can I engage my child?
Create a space
The first step in maximising your child’s engagement is to create a space where you both are comfortable and there is minimal distractions. When you want to make the most of the time you have with your child it really helps to have a space set up. I recommend a small space that you can stay close to your child and they cannot leave easily. We know how difficult it can be to get a child’s attention when we are following them around the house. Limiting toys especially electronics will help your child focus on a smaller set of toys and most importantly you. If there are particular toys that they play in a very particular way and have difficulty separating from, it is best to not have these toys in this space. It can be very difficult to compete with a preferred toy or item.
Observe your child
Observe your child while they play. Watch what they interact with. and ask yourself: how are they playing with that toy or item? What is making them smile? What sound effects are they making? During this time, do not interact with your child, simply let them play their way. When you have a good idea of the actions they are enjoying you can move to the next step…
Follow their lead
In this step you need to forget about how you would usually play with toys or interact with your child, especially if that has not been successful in the past. Just follow your child’s lead! Follow their actions, ideas of what to do, and feelings during play. This should help your child allow you to interact with them for longer as you are not interrupting their game. It is a way that they can show you what is interesting to them. You you want to impress your child even more, you can hand them the item you see they are reaching towards. Be the giver of good things! Remember, even if what your child is doing seems unusual to you, let them lead the activity .
Imitate your child
The next step is to imitate your child. By doing this you are showing them that you are interested in what they are doing and how they play. If they like jumping in front of a mirror and you imitate this, this is likely to interest them as they enjoy looking at this action. As I have said above, even if what they are doing seems unusual to you, imitate them. Don’t worry if you think you look silly. Have fun! If they are completing actions on objects then imitate these actions too. Try to have a second set of items so you do not need to take or interfere with their toys.
Our final step, once all the above have been complete is to begin to create learning opportunities. This is where we being to slowly introduce some turn taking, narrating their play and setting up opportunities to teach them. Instead of just imitating them, add in some of your own actions. Gain control of some of the items and gently get them to request the items from you. Depending on your child this might look like them reaching for the item, or pointing, or using a full sentence. Every learner will be working at their own ability. What you need to do is set up situations where they need to request the item or activity from you and once the communicate with you, verbally or non-verbally, you need to respond immediately.
Hopefully these steps help you gain some wonderful play interactions with your child. Contact us if you want to find out how we can support you further in achieving important goals with your child.