Free choice is also very important for the development of your child. Instead of telling your child what to play or do next, try having two or three options that you are happy for them to do and offer them the choice. The big benefit in this is your child will become focused and engrossed in an activity that they have chosen for themselves as it appeals to them at their particular stage of development, so there is little need for discipline. On the flip side, if a child is told to do a particular activity, that inner drive and interest are dampened, and a battle of the wills may ensue (aka tantrums or your child simply running off!). Giving the child a choice will build up their autonomy and self-esteem – it’s also great for demand avoidant children (e.g. PDA or ODD).
Doing pretend play can be really difficult, boring or arduous for us adults – don’t feel guilty about that! Think about it, we did that kind of playing when we were kids, so for us it’s kind of a ‘been there done that’ situation. But a good pro tip for you if you struggle with pretend play (like I do) is this – ask your child what happens next! It’s that simple.
Example: You and your child are playing dinosaurs. You honestly have no idea what is going on, everything you try and do results in your child saying, “Noooo, not like that!”.
You: “What happens now?”
Child: *T Rex jumps on this car* and says, ‘I’m going to eat you!”
You: “Sure thing”. *you jump the T Rex onto the car*. “I’m going to EAT YOU!”
You: “Then what happens?”
Child: “Now T Rex chases me and gets me!”
You: “Ok then!”
Etc etc. – you get my drift! Not only does this take the pressure off you to try and think of suitable pretend play scenarios that are in alignment with what your child has planned out in their head, but the big benefit is that this is putting your child in control. Think about that for one second. Your child is completely out of control in every aspect of their life as everything is controlled by you as the parent. But pretend play is one part of life that they can control – how empowering is that! You are building up their imagination, their ability to sequence events, their ability to predict what will happen next, their social skills, their turn-taking skills, their communication skills and the list goes on! So many benefits for both them and for you!
Keep in mind, some autistic children may struggle with this kind of imaginative play. You may need to stick to role-playing everyday life such as ‘the shops’, which is absolutely fine. Keep an eye on if they want to repeat the same script over and over each time and cannot/do not deviate from it. Over time practice making little changes to build their resilience to change and the need to control for predictability. Practising role-playing everyday situations is fantastic for processing events that have happened, practising for future events (similar to telling social stories) and building communication and social skills.
That’s a lot of play! Let’s do some homework.
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