Program: Toy Play

This post is about teaching the skill of playing with toys in a functional manner.

Toy Play is a program often needed when the client has minimal or no play skills, has few leisure activities/cannot keep themselves engaged, or is consistently inappropriate with toys (destructive, chews on toys, etc.). The goal of Toy Play as a program is to teach different types of play skills that may or may not include peers/other people.

Many people think that "play is play" and that there is nothing about play that a child needs to learn..... Just hand them a toy and step back. However, children typically go through stages in the development of play skills that range from playing with simple toys alone, to playing with more complex toys alone, to playing games with other children. Children with ASD may experience some, or very few, of these play stages, as motor and imitation skills are a big part of learning to play.

When first beginning to teach Toy Play, observe how long the client will interact with a toy without your interference. Give them a simple toy, and step back and observe. Once they disengage from the toy (push it away, drop it, walk away, etc.), determine how long they played with it. If it was 15 seconds, start your teaching at 10 seconds. Start a little bit below where the client currently is to encourage success.
Keep the toys simple at first. A good choice would be a Mr Potato Head toy, where it is clear what body parts go where. A poor choice would be a pile of Lego's where there isn't a clear "way" to play with the item. Concrete is better than abstract, at least in the beginning of teaching toy play.

Over time, increase the time intervals for toy interaction. Next, expand into those abstract or "gray areas": play complexity, imaginative/dress-up play, imitation during play, art or musical play, etc.

Anyone with child development knowledge knows that children typically learn to play in certain phases.  Examples include:

1) Parallel play- playing near others, but not with others
 2)Cooperative play- playing with others towards a common goal, such as building a tower
 3) Imaginative play- playing alone or with others in a creative, free flow game of pretend, such as making an imaginary cake.

Toy Play can be a fun program to teach, and it is also important to pave the way for the client's social interaction skills. A client who has been taught the skill of toy play can easily learn to interact with a group of peers, as play IS how children make new friends.
Children who do not know how to be appropriate with toys are at a disadvantage when placed in a group of peers. Especially for young children, play skills are a form of communication. Children walk up to one another and invite each other to join games, to play with a toy together, or to make up a game.

For more information about teaching play skills please see the following link:

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