By Julie Brant Gordon, LCSW

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder struggle with appropriate play, often engaging in scripted, rigid and isolated play.  Pretend play requires foundational skills in social communication, joint attention,  and flexibility – all areas of core deficit. It requires self-talk, adapting to another person’s variations and characters and generating symbols and elaborations. We often don’t see the connection to play as early learning. When it has a significant impact on later academic success.

What is Pretend Play?

  • Pretend play begins with simple representations – we agree that this block is a giraffe.
  • Pretend play is exploring and imitating daily tasks – what happens when I push this broom around like Mom did?
  • Pretend play is reenacting everyday life – play food in a play grocery store
  • Pretend play includes characters engaging – your doll invites my doll to a tea party
  • Pretend play is dynamic – the ground is lava and if you touch it, you’re out!

What is Role Play?

  • Role play takes characters to another level – I am someone else and you are someone else
  • Role play requires evolving scenarios – think theater!
  • Role play aides in social development and problem solving – practicing how you are going to introduce yourself, say I’m sorry or present a project in front of other.
  • Role play can also aide in reading comprehension – visualizing the picture that author is describing

Pretend play is most often associated with young children. But it is critical that transition-aged adolescents on the Autism Spectrum develop this skill. Choose age-appropriate ways to play and real-world scenarios to explore!