All children loves to play. It is something that comes naturally from curiosity and awareness of the environment. Play is essential for emotional, social and physical development. At a certain age, a child begins to examine everything he/she sees. From peering into gaps, opening and closing drawers to dismantling and assembling toys.
Children on the Autism Spectrum (ASD) loves play just as much as the next child. However, they may have a different idea of play all together. They have limited play skills and may find some types of play difficult to do. They usually also have social and communication deficits and ASD also affects development of essential play skills such as:
- copying actions
- sharing attention or objects
- taking turns
- exploring the environment
- imagining feelings and thought of others
Parents may notice repetitive and stereotypical ways of play when observing their child during playtime. Practitioners of ABA therapy use a method called 'Reinforcement Development' to build interest and expose different toys and ways to play to broaden their play skills.
Here are some simple ways you can try reinforcement development at home:
Just like a sandwich, the bread is a toy that the child already likes and enjoy. The filling of the sandwich is the new toy that you are targeting to develop. So it goes a little like this:
Bread (preferred toy) --> Filling (new toy) ---> Bread (preferred toy)
The idea of this is that your child starts with having his/her favorite toy first. Then you remove their favorite toy and you immediately present the new toy to him/her. If he/she engages with the new toy, then he/she will get their preferred toy back, as your way of saying
to them "I'm glad you tried something new. You may have your favorite toy again."
There are also some variables that you would need to consider to avoid upsetting the child such as:
-the duration of presenting the new toy should be kept short and sweet.
-you may also need to demonstrate how to play the toy before presenting it to them.
-you may need to help the child by physically holding their hand to show them how to play.
-you may need to show how happy you are that your child tried something new by being enthusiastic about it or cheering aloud when they touch the toy.
By repeating this pattern, you may slowly increase the time your child spends with the new toy and decreasing the time they have with their preferred toy and hopefully they would start becoming more open and accepting of the new toy.
Paring is basically using something that the child already likes and pair it with something least preferred. For example, if your child likes transports and you'd like to develop interest in PlayDoh, you can make a simple road out of the PlayDoh and give his favorite car a road to drive on! Or you can also make a ramp for his/her favorite bike to jump off from! The idea here is associating the happy feelings they have from their existing favorite toy to the new toy and hopefully peak an interest to explore the new toy.
It is also important to note that any type of reinforcement development is a process that takes time and not something that can be evolved overnight. With patience and persistence, the child should slowly get use to the presence of the new toy and hopefully pick it up to play on their own one day. This is also a great opportunity for parents to spend time with their child and to observe they way they play.
Let us know if you had success in getting your children exposed to new activities. Good Luck!