What are some play/activity strategies and evidence-based practices for children with autism?

The evidence-based practices below are play/activity strategies, applicable to non-classroom settings. However, these can be used for multiple environments, including the classroom. Once again, most of the listed evidence-based strategies are based on similar principles.

Structured and Integrated Play Groups

Structured play groups provide opportunities in small, categorized structures, facilitated by adults and
caregivers, to enhance outcomes. There are defined tasks and activities that are supported through typically developing peers and adults, as described by SPG specialists. Multiple examples and case studies provide support for the efficacy and benefits of such groups. Studies regarding LEGO play and the development of social skills have seen positive associations between the two subjects, improving collaboration and communication with autistic and neurotypical children.

Integrated play groups have also seen improvements in groups comprised of just children with autism–the majority of evidence points to that the collaborative environments can foster social skills and
strengthened communication.   Integrated playgroups often represent similar play groups but can facilitate interaction between peers rather than a necessary task-focused activity system.

Peer-Mediated Instruction

Peer-mediated instruction and intervention allows for neurotypical peers to interact with ASC learners and create social interaction in learning groups.  Clubs across primary and secondary schools utilize this method to produce positive results in educational and social settings.

Unitopia uses a similar method for instruction and support by providing individualized instruction and group interaction for activities as well. Both individual and classwide settings have evidence-based precedent.

Kamps et al. find that classwide peer tutoring can reinforce reading concepts while producing stronger social interaction due to the interaction of children with ASC and neurotypical classmates.

Laushey and Heffin extrapolate that individual “buddy” approaches improved social interactions and could signify generalizations towards holistic settings, a strong sign for peer tutoring programs to expand.

More methods and evidence-based practices are available online through the open-access research provided by the National Professional Development Center on ASD. These strategies are some of the most commonly utilized by Unitopia volunteers during the sessions and interactions with children, and is part of the training provided to the Direct Impact team that works hand-in-hand with autistic children.

Important Note: Caregiving Care!

Additionally, always remember: take care of yourself as a caregiver as well! Even though a child may not directly address your feelings or emotions, many children and individuals with autism are able to detect how you are feeling and may not  be comfortable with you. Adib et al. finds that increased stress levels for caregivers of children with ASC provide negative caregiving consequences for the children, leading to lower quality of life and discomfort for children with ASC. A common theme across caretakers who may be working full-time is to find support groups or respite care to help with caring for a child on the spectrum.

Additionally, more resources are available below, especially regarding caregiver perspectives on autism, and some other intervention strategies that caregivers use to make decisions, including the maintenance of routines, independence for children, and proper planning processes. Read below for activity ideas and additional resources as well!

By using some of the strategies mentioned above, Unitopia volunteers began to notice improvements in their students’ performance in the classroom, along with the inherent evidence-based results that have been produced through the cited research. These improvements were seen in both educational and social settings.