Steps to Increase Independent Sustained Play with Your Children

One main area of skills that children with Autism typically struggle with are play skills. This can include deficits in looking at others, playing with toys by their function, imaginary play and playing independently for lengths of time. For many parents, it can be difficult to find ways to run errands or do chores in the home partly because their children are unable to play independently. How can you increase independent play with your child?

Here are some ways below:

  • Pick toys that you desire your child to play with or that they have some interest in
    1. Maybe your child likes how wheels turn on a toy car, this can be a great place to start by showing them how to play with the car while they can still get the enjoyment of the wheels turning
  • Pick a goal of how long you want your child to engage with the toy appropriately
    1. Typically it is appropriate to start your goal as something reachable to the child. If the child plays with toys for 5 seconds, start your goal at 7 seconds so that they can obtain it and receive reinforcement readily, then increase the goal as they meet the original one often. Continue to help them play until they reach approximately 15 to 20 minutes of play with one item.
  • Show your child how to play with the targeted toys
    1. You can model how to play with toys yourself, find a video of someone playing with the toys that your child can imitate or have siblings model how to play
  • Once your child is playing with toys according to their function, take data on how long they will play with the toy without interaction with an adult 
    1. The data can be simple. Write down the name of the toy and the amount of time they are playing with it daily. When they leave the area or begin playing with the toy incorrectly, continue to redirect them back to playing appropriately with the toy for a designated period of time that you have as a goal.
  • Once your child has met the goal of playing with toys for 15 to 20 minutes, work on them being able to switch from playing with one toy to another independently. This will increase the amount of independent play they have. 
    1. You can show them how to transition from one activity to another by modeling it yourself, video modeling or a sibling modeling it similar to how you showed them how to play originally with the toy. 

Soon you will be able to get chores done or run errands while your child plays independently. This will increase their ability in the future to engage in tasks independently as well and will increase their ability to play with others.