Play is a very important part of development. It helps develop fine and gross motor skills, language and communication skills, social skills, as well as thinking and problem solving skills. Children with Autism may play very different than typical developing children. They can lack imaginative play or become obsessed with certain types of toys. A lot of children with Autism play with things that are not toys at all, like doors or the little springs behind the doors. Chloe use to love opening and closing doors over and over.
Chloe played normally as a baby up to 12 months. We started seeing a decline in her development after her first birthday. She started lining her toys up and refusing to let us touch them or play with her using her toys. Play became stressful, not fun. How do you play with your child if you can’t touch her toys? She also started throwing huge tantrums if a toy wouldn’t stand up or do what she wanted it to do. She would throw them and throw herself backwards hitting her head on the floor. We took her to the pediatrician and voiced our concerns. We were told to enroll her in First Steps. Long story short Chloe wouldn’t work with them. She would scream and throw herself around if they touched a toy or tried to guide her to play. It just didn’t work for her. We tried Floortime Play Therapy developed by Stanley Greenspan. It encourages you to get down on the floor and meet the child where they are at. The child led the play and you had to share in their world. Then you had to try to expand their play slowly and the goal was back and forth play and interaction. This did not work with Chloe, because again, we couldn’t touch her toys. It is a great program and has worked for many children
Every book I read said “Build on their strengths”, so I began looking at what she played with the most. She really started loving numbers and letters. So we bought her more books and magnetic letters and numbers. I tried every day to play with her and I finally figured out all I could do was sit there and narrate her play. She would allow me to read books to her. We read all the time! She loved toys with buttons and levers. They really helped with focus and most were tantrum proof. The key was meeting her where she was. Not buying toys according to age or pushing my expectations on her. She was developmentally years behind. I soon learned I could reach her more with educational activities than with toy play. Games taught taking turns and sharing. Oh sharing, that is still a tough one for Chloe.
As the years have passed by we have learned a lot. We can never buy her a toy because we think it’s cute or she “may” like it. 99% of the time she doesn’t. We wait for her to point it out at a store and then we take a picture of it if it will be for Christmas or a birthday present. I have to remember she may be 8 1/2 years old, but her play skills are more on a 4 to 5 yr level. If she wants a younger child’s toy or book that’s ok. Chloe has come a long way with her play skills. She has more imaginative play and she can figure out how toys work much faster now. She still has fits when things won’t stand the way she wants or I touch a toy. There are days she scripts all day and doesn’t play at all. We are still proud of how far she has come.