One way for parents to reward children’s good behavior is by allowing them to engage in play they enjoy. However, it is challenging for parents and teachers to find play activities that appeal to children with autism.
The researchers found children with autism prefer play involving:
- strong sensory input and feedback
- repetitive movement or motion
- “cause/effect attributes”
Doody based the study on observations of children at a museum with a variety of exhibits designed to encourage play by the children. The most popular exhibits among children with autism were:
- Climbing stairs – children climb a short staircase to reach a platform where they drop a ball into a track and watch as it descends
- Netherlands Windmill – children spin the windmill and then watch it spin
- Vietnam Rice Table – a table filled with rice and some funnels
|Kaboompic on Pixabay|
Least popular among the children with autism were activities involving pretend play and those involving arts and crafts. Doody explained that autistic children avoid pretend play because of a lack of, or underdeveloped, Theory of Mind. “That develops much earlier in children with typical development than in children with autism, if they develop it at all,” said Doody.
Education.com describes Theory of Mind (ToM) as “the intuitive understanding of one’s own and other people’s minds or mental states— including thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, knowledge, intentions, desires, and emotions—and of how those mental states influence behavior.”
The methods undertaken for this study were unique in that:
- the children had the freedom to choose what activity they wanted to play
- there was no prompting by adults
- the children were observed in a real play environment, a children’s museum
The study’s authors want their findings used to promote inclusive activities involving children with autism and their peers without the disorder. The authors also think the information will promote positive behaviors by allowing the child’s preferred play as a reward.
The study, Preferred Play Activities of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Naturalistic Settings, is published in the North American Journal of Medicine and Science.