Independent play

“I’m bored, there’s nothing to do, when can I have TV? When’s it dinner time?” …..sound familiar?!

Or maybe your child has very limited interests and very few play skills.

How can we keep our little munchkins entertained without relying on Netflix and game consoles??

  • Remind them what they have available to them – make up a simple menu by taking photos of games/activities that you know they can play with and stick it somewhere your child can see so that you can refer them to it and encourage them to choose something. If your child can read you can simply write out ideas or you can use images.
  • If you have a TV monster (like I do) then your ideas might not be ‘interesting enough’ and the moaning may continue….don’t give in!
  • Have you heard of the Premack principle?? If not, think ‘granny’s rule’ or ‘first – then’. You can say something like this, “First I want you to do some painting and then you can watch a bit of TV”.
  • Autism mums – you might want to try using a ‘first’ – ‘then’ visual to aide this.

Autism mums – occupying your child for more than a few minutes can be really tricky and even more so if your child has very limited play skills. Play schedules can be really helpful to provide some structure for your child’s free time. They can be pictures only, pictures and text or just text – depends on your child skill set.

  • For those children who have very limited play skills I would highly recommend that you start off teaching your child to play with ‘closed-ended’ activities; those sorts of activities that have a clear start and a clear end e.g. Mr Potato Head, inset puzzles, ring stackers, shape sorters, colour by number etc.
  • Create a visual schedule and start off small – teach your child to engage in just 1 activity and then they can access something more preferred. Once they are able to complete 1 activity independently introduce 2 activities on the schedule and then 3 etc.
  • As the child makes progress with close-ended activities begin to introduce open-ended activities e.g. playing with playdoh, jumping on the trampoline. It’s sometimes helpful to set a timer for these sorts of activities.
  • Don’t forget about reinforcement – how often will depend on your child but remember, you can always fade out reinforcement so don’t be too stingy when you get started.

(If you haven’t heard of reinforcement – it’s something that you provide after a behaviour occurs that makes it more likely for that behaviour to occur again under similar circumstances. For example, my child says, “please may I have a biscuit?” and I say “of course you can, thanks for asking so nicely!” whilst handing over a biscuit. The biscuit and social praise provided here might serve as a reinforcer.  You don’t actually know if something served as a reinforcer until you’ve tracked the frequency of the behaviour happening again over time).

There are some pre-requisite skills your child will need to use play schedules effectively:

  • Match pictures to objects
  • tolerate physical prompts
  • demonstrate Independence with individual skills

What should they look like?

Play schedules can come in many forms, but typically;

  • ring binders
  • photo albums
  • ipad apps (I like choice works)

You can use board maker, clip art, or just draw yourself!

Data time!

We use task analysis to take data on the steps required for a child to master independent play schedules. Examples of steps might look like these:

  1. open book
  2. point to picture
  3. get activity
  4. bring activity to table
  5. complete activity
  6. put activity away
  7. return to table
  8. turn page
  9. request reinforcer

As always the specifics depend on your child but hopefully this helps get you started

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