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Play and Leisure Skills for Children with Autism

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

Arizona Institute for Autism (AIA) Blog


Play is important for a child’s development and is the foundation for learning different

age-appropriate skills. Every child likes to play, however, children with autism may engage in dysfunctional play and inappropriate manipulation with toys. Inappropriate play includes not playing with a toy according to its function, repetitive play (playing with specific items), playing consistently with only one part of a preferred toy (i.e. the wheels), rigidity in play (i.e. lining toy items), or engaging in self-stimulating behaviors (i.e. keeping one toy item in their hand). Pretend play and social play are often limited as well.


Playtime should be fun while giving our kiddos the opportunity to learn. Playtime helps a child learn various skills including:


● Fine & Motor skills

● Imitation Skills (imitate Leisure Skills (flexibility).

● Attention Span

● Executive Functioning skills & problem-solving

● Social skills (Turn to take, sharing, interacting with peers).


Teaching a child, a play skill should start with teaching interaction with adults first to enable structured interaction in a supportive way that meets each child individually. Children learn when interacting with others through developing shared attention and understanding the feelings of others. Starting to teach play skills with peers and engaging in shared attention can cause anxiety and frustration in kids with autism. Once a child can functionally play, then gradually teach them to engage and play with peers.


Playtime should be reinforcing for your child. Identify your child’s interest and be creative in expanding your child’s interest and introducing new toys. Encourage learning in a fun, enjoyable, and motivating way that suits your child’s individual needs, abilities, and interests.


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