Child-directed play blends autistic kids into group

Posted on October 29, 2014

Finding a setting that allows autistic kids to socialize with more normally developing peers is often a Catch-22 for parents. For while autistic youth need significant practice to develop social skills, deficits in this skill set often make play, and associating with similar age kids challenging.

Research by Dr. Pamela Wolfberg, a professor of special education and communicative disorders at San Francisco State University, provides a solution by developing a different type of play group that focuses on collaborative rather than adult-directed activities.

A new report shows that such “Integrated Play Groups,” or IPGs, developed by Wolfberg over several years, are effective in teaching children with autism the skills they need to interact with their peers and engage in symbolic play such as pretending.

In IPGs, adults help children with autism and their typically developing peers engage in playful activities of mutual interest, but do not direct the play themselves. That sets them apart from more traditional interventions.

Children with autism, according to Wolfberg, tend to have a “very restrictive play repertoire,” in which they may have unusual interests and repeat the same activity, most often by themselves. The goal of Integrated Play Groups is to move children from engaging in lower levels of play, such as simply banging something, to engaging in more symbolic play that involves reciprocal interaction with peers.

Researchers found that, following the IPG intervention, the children’s ability to interact with kids they did not know and to engage in pretend play had risen dramatically, indicating the IPGs were successful in providing them with transferable social and symbolic play skills.

In addition, the IPG model also teaches typically developing children about autism and lets them learn how to form friendships with kids who might play, communicate, or relate differently.

The success of IPGs is an opportunity for parents, educators, and therapists seeking to help children with autism in socializing with their peers.

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Source material from Psych Central


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