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What is it?

 'Play' is a child's occupation - it is how they learn and how they connect with others.  Many children on the ASD spectrum have poor play skills. They do not know how to engage in play, (especially pretend play), or relate to the objects around them in a meaningful way. Other children with ASD symptoms may amuse themselves for hours in solo activities without reaching out to engage with their caregiver or friends. 

What problems can this cause?

​Firstly, for the caregiver of a child who does not engage with them, it can be very disheartening to feel your child doesn’t 'need' you.

Secondly, play is how the child learns about the world; without proper play skills the child is isolated in a very small world.

​Thirdly, play skills enhance our gross motor, fine motor and cognitive skills - if one suffers the others are inhibited.

Fourthly, children who don't know how to play well with their peers at school struggle with depression, inappropriate behaviour, isolation and bullying. 

Fifthly, play helps strengthen emotional skills and theory of the mind - the ability to understand things from someone else’s point of view. When a child engages in pretend play, they are taking on other roles and seeing the world from that role. Without theory of mind, the child will struggle to have a fulfilling adult life as theory of mind is needed for employment, friendships and romantic relationships.

How does OT help?

We use a DIR/floortime type approach and Stagnetii's "Learn to Play" to engage with young children in play. At our clinic we place particular emphasis on teaching the parent how to engage meaningully with their child. We might see the child for only one session a week, but to develop meaningful play and social reciprocation takes  hours of the parents time each week.  It is an ongoing process where every step builds on the last.

For older children, we might do a lot of modelling of play to build play sequences from simple to complex (making more steps in the play e.g. from  stirring a cup to making a cake). We might also use play to teach social skills, emotions and conflict resolving.

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