A few things to keep in mind while teaching play skills or trying to improve interaction skills:

  • Free time is a difficult concept for some children with autism. 

  • Remember you will have to teach play skills.  They do not come naturally for many children with autism.

  • Teach the play skills 1:1 first, then incorporate them into a group setting (Moyes, 1997).

  • Use age appropriate games and toys to the extent possible.  If a seven year old without autism likes the game, chances are, your seven year old will have some interest in it too.  You may just have to modify the presentation a little.

  • Find a way to make the game or activity “do-able” for him or her.

  • Have fun.  Your child should want to come to this play area.  If you are not having fun, they are probably not having fun.

  • Try something new like, roller skating (start on a rug or carpet first), tennis, baseball, t-ball, soccer or bowling.

  • Follow your child’s lead and comment on what he or she is interested in. Try not to get too consumed in your own idea of what play should look like.  Focus on the act of attending to the same item at the same time, sharing the same space and being on the “same page”, more than having him or her “play” with the toy in the exact manner for which it was made.

  • If you are going to play, then play.  Try not to drill your child on colors and shapes and numbers, etc. during the play time.  It is okay to comment on these concepts, but keep the play fun and engaging and the opposite of work time. 

  • Find a method to teach the skills they need.  You are the facilitator.  During the beginning stages, try not to leave him/her to “play on his/her own.”



Play is challenging to teach since it comes natural to most children. The idea of having to break down the play skills is unique. Teaching interaction skills is not usually something that teachers learn when preparing for the teaching profession.  However, there is a large need for professionals to have this skill and/or be able to help parents to foster this skill as well (by providing tips, ideas and support.)

Educators and parents can h
elp students develop play skills in a number of ways:

  • Use toys that have a clear cause and effect component
  • Teach the rules to games
  • Practice turn-taking
  • Model making comments in play
  • Directly teach game skills, playground skills, and outside skills 


              See more about these Play Skills Printables here.
To see the video about play skills click here.