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Understanding the Importance of Play in Skill Building

When we work with individuals with special needs, it is imperative to be open to different ways of teaching and learning. Introducing play in the learning process adds to the overall effectiveness of the lesson and it’s long lasting impact. A typical learning setting with books and theory might be conducive to some learners but “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.

It is crucial to remember to include various modes of teaching when working with individuals on the Autism Spectrum i.e. Visual (ex. pictures, cue cards, videos), Auditory (ex. music, simplified verbal directions and prompts) and Tactile (physical items to touch and work on with hands).

For example, Jackie likes to watch the music video of the song when she is playing an instrument during music group. Jackie’s staff also verbally encourages her throughout the session to keep Jackie engaged.

Teaching modes used for Jackie: Visual - Music video of the song being played; Auditory- Music video, staff verbal encouragement; Tactile - the music instrument.

Importance of play time

To dig a little deeper, let’s take the time to understand how the connection between play and building skills can impact an individual’s growth. Whether by themselves or in group settings, some areas of skills that may be positively impacted and how, are:

1. Conversation skills

• Verbally explaining the concept of the game to the individual and asking them to paraphrase or explain in their own words can help practise listening skills in a group setting or a one-on-one session.

• Individuals work on their articulation skills and learn names and terms involved in the game.

2. Social Skills

• Individuals learn how to share their time and space with others involved in play time.

• Working with others involved in the activity encourages team building: taking and waiting for turns, developing empathy, socially appropriate behavior, modelling behavior and imitating.

3. Motor skills

• Working with games and toys which involve grasping, holding, throwing, catching, focus on the gross motor skills of the individual.

• Arts and crafts, writing, holding paint brushes or working with clay help develop the fine motor skills.

4. Creativity

• Play is a great way to build creativity where individuals find themselves exploring and using their bodies and materials to make and do things and to share their feelings, ideas and thoughts. They enjoy being creative by dancing, painting, playing with junk and recycled materials, working with play-dough and clay, and using their imaginations.

5. Pretend play

• This is also called imaginative play or fantasy play, this when children pretend things or places are something else, they themselves are someone else, and they create play scenarios. In children, pretend play is strongly associated to language development, problem solving, logical thinking, story-telling, social competence, perceiving social norms, and the ability to play with others in the role of a ‘player'.

Putting it into play

Play time is a tool for the overall development of the individual’s growth. The skills gained in play time at home, school,programs are transferable and can contribute to the creativity and self expression in different aspects of life.

Parents and the individual(s) on the spectrum or professional staff and the individual(s) on the spectrum work together as a team and learn from each other during play time sessions. As briefly discussed before, play time can also be used to teach and learn soft skills like self-esteem, confidence, team building etc.

There are many activities that can be done one-on-one or in group settings. Here are some engaging ways to build multiple skills while having fun:

• Using play dough to build different shapes and things with clay cutters and shapers. (Fine/Gross motor skills)

• Painting/coloring (Fine motor skills)

•Building crafts with paper/construction material/scissors/papers (Fine motor skills)

• “Find and tag” - tag items in the room/around the premises with stickers as directed (Fine/Gross motor skills)

• Imitation game - copy the leader in terms of actions (Gross motor skills)

• A role playing or imaginative play activity on greeting or how to react during various situations.

• Using wigs and other props to impersonate different individuals that they might come across and role playing with them and using this opportunity to build social skills.


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