Constructing Social Skills and Language through Imaginary Play

Imaginary play skills come easily to neurotypical children. They can spend hours pretending to be their favorite princess or build an imaginary rocket. Neurodiverse children however, such as those with Autism can struggle to understand or incorporate imaginary play into their daily routine. This can impede their ability to participate in games, play with other children or understand complex language. Below are a few ways a parent or caregiver can engage with children to start the building process of imaginary play.

  • Engage in something that interests the child 
    • Does the child enjoy a certain character from TV or a certain animal? Using items that incorporate their favorite things can help them engage in imaginative play. 
  • Use siblings or plan a playdate 
    • Using siblings or planning a playdate and being able to give real time instruction or modeling to your child is beneficial. It helps your child to be able to imitate and gain reinforcement immediately in a social form.
  • Have reinforcers ready
    • Have your child’s favorite items on hand either to play with or gain an edible reinforcer after performing an imaginary play skill.
  • Practice daily
    • Practicing one imaginary play skill daily can help your child to gain this skill in a timely manner. 
  • Check in with your child’s team 
    • Asking therapists and teachers to help with the implementation of the imaginary play skill you are targeting can also benefit your child. A built-in imaginary play time with your child’s school teacher can help your child gain those skills even faster! 
  • Set up the environment for success 
    • Removing distractions such as musical toys or cause and effect toys and limiting their favorite toys during the imaginary play can help your child to be able to attend to the skill and learn readily. 
  • Resource of Imaginary play ideas