Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Power of Play

We have been spending a lot of time lately in therapy (and trying to reinforce/generalize when we have time with Alanna) developing Alanna's play skills.  Play skills are the basis for many other interventions in autism, including Floortime (especially the PLAY project).  Now that Alanna is starting to gain some play skills, we can use these opportunities to develop social communication, eye contact and joint attention. Alanna can also begin to play independently in a functional/imaginative way.  As she masters playing with different toys, she can then play with them in her playroom downstairs and keep "busy" while we do chores in a way that's functional.  

Alanna can:
  • String beads like no-one's business.
  • Do a variety of puzzles; as she learns new puzzles she is doing harder ones.
  • Make pictures with shapes.
  • Build towers with blocks.
  • Play with a Mr. Potato Head and put the pieces in random places to make a fun head.
  • Complete shape sorters.
  • Feed her little baby, wipe her face, give her a soother.
  • Cut a piece of pretend birthday cake, put it on a plate, blow out the candles, and decorate it.
  • Pour herself some tea, drink the tea, put some bread on a plate, butter it (and she will sometimes say "ahm-nom-nom" when she pretends to eat). 
When Alanna is doing pretend play, she doesn't do it long because she is not able to think of too many novel actions yet.  But she will pretend without any prompts for several actions, and if you were an outsider she would look like a little girl playing with her tea set, for example. 

I have often wondered if teaching pretend play in this way is effective because I wonder if Alanna "gets" what she is doing.  But then I remember that young children engage in pretend play by imitating what their parents do, and that is how Alanna learned too.  Also, I see she generalizes, which tells me she gets it.  For example, she might pretend to eat something else other than bread, so I know she gets that plastic food is something you pretend to eat.  She feeds her baby but also feeds her bear and even her brother!

Play is an important part of intervention and I am glad we have put some focus on it!

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