Types of Play Skills

Play skills are an integral and important part of the social development of children with autism. Each child is unique in how s/he learns to play with toys, activities, and peers. Equally unique are the challenges that may arise when teaching a child with autism how to play.

Sometimes it may be difficult to find appropriate items or “come up” with ideas that may be engaging for a child. Below are some examples of play items or activities which may be valuable options for engaging your child with autism to play.


-Always safety first. Children may need to be monitored to be sure they refrain from mouthing items or placing items in their mouth as well as ensuring all toys and equipment are played with in a safe manner.

-Prerequisite skills may need to be taught to your child first in order for a child to use a toy appropriately.

1. Sensory play

Many children love or are drawn to a wide variety of sensory items. Some favorites are rice and bean bins, play doh, sandboxes, or kinetic sand.

2. Arts and Crafts

This is another popular activity for many children! Arts and crafts can take many forms. Some of the more popular activities are water painting, stamping, stickers, and finger painting.

3. Task Completion items

Task completion is often one of the first play skills that are taught. Task completion items can help in developing fine motor skills as well as increasing a child’s attention to a task to the point of completion. Some examples are puzzles, Mr. Potato Head, lacing, shape sorters, ring stackers, and lacing beads.

4. Bubbles

Bubbles can be played with almost anywhere! The types of bubble devices have expanded greatly from the standard small, circular blow stick. There are bubble wands of various shapes and sizes, bubble machines, bubble windmills, and bubble saxophones to name a few.

5. Balloons

Balloons can also be used for lots of play activities. They come in different sizes as well. You can play games with them, such as balloon tennis or Keep it Going; they can be painted or drawn on; and, of course, you can make balloon animals.

6. Trampoline

A fan favorite for many kids, trampolines are an appropriate way to redirect jumping behaviors. They come in many sizes, from small ones you can put in your house to huge ones for the yard.

7. Toys with Wheels

Toys with wheels are another favored type of play item that many children enjoy and can spend much time doing. Some examples of these are tricycles and bicycles, scooters, toy cars, and scooter boards.

8. Water Play

Water play, which can get messy very quickly, can provide much entertainment for many children. A water table, blow up pool, or baby bathtub can be used to expand water play outside of the standard sink. There are toys for splashing, scooping, pouring, dunking, and squeezing, in addition to water wheels and wind-up toys.

9. Blocks

There’s almost no limit to what a child can build with blocks. They are not just for stacking and crashing! Children can build block structures from pictures or follow a Lego or Duplo diagram to build a structure. There are many sizes and shapes of blocks available, such as wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs, magnetic items, and K’nex.

10. Books

The types of books available can range from classics such as Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle to interactive books to use with a tablet. Whatever the child’s interest is, there is most likely a book on it.

There are simple and elaborate pop-up books, book puppets, and books with sounds to name a few.

Also remember:

– A child may show limited interest initially in some play items.

– Try playing face to face

– Provide reinforcement for smiles, sounds, commenting, or appropriate conversation that occurs during play

– Provide reinforcement for initiation – it may be a sign that the child’s interest in play is building

– In the beginning, Keep it short and successful!


–Chris Taroli, BCBA

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