Home » Pro » Reflections on Applied Behavior Analysis » Play Therapy Tips for Children with Autism

with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

Play Therapy Tips for Children with Autism

Stacked blocks spelling autism on white background

Children with an autism spectrum disorder can benefit from a number of different treatment modalities. Applied Behavior Analysis is an evidence-based approach to helping children with Autism grow and develop. Additionally, many play-based methods can also benefit children with Autism.

When an adult, whether a parent or a trained professional, performs specific play-based interventions with children with autism, children can experience improvement in many skill areas including relating to others, joint attention, peer play, physical fine and gross motor skills, requesting for their needs and wants in appropriate ways, and much more.

Children with autism vary greatly in their symptoms. However, many children with autism may have a rigidity in their behaviors in that they may need things to be a specific way. They may have certain “stimming” behaviors that they participate in that are repetitive behaviors that may serve to calm them, to satisfy a sensory need, or for another purpose. See Autism Speaks for more information. Play can help children with their sensory needs, their sense of calm and security, and can decrease stimming behaviors.

Some tips for providing play therapy for children with autism include:

  • Begin where they are at. Try not to force them outside their comfort zone too much. Baby steps are the best way to increase longer term progress.
  • Mirror what they are doing. Imitate the action of the child.
  • Add small actions to expand on their play. For instance, if they are playing with farm animals, take one animal and make it do something new.
  • If the child gets frustrated with other people touching their toys, slowly but steadily increase the amount of interaction you have that involves taking things from them.
  • Comment on their activities even if they don’t continue the conversation.
  • Try to offer them things as much as you can, so they can learn to pair you with positivity.
  • Be fun, exciting, and interested in the child.

For more information about play with children with autism, see this article posted on Liana Lowenstein’s website by Sonia Mastrangelo.

Please leave a comment with any other ideas you have about tips for play therapy for children with autism. We can all learn from each other’s thoughts and experiences. Thanks!

Play Therapy Tips for Children with Autism

Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA

Heather is a freelance writer, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and social worker. Heather takes interest in topics related to parenting, children, families, personal development, health and wellness, applied behavior analysis, as well as Autism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety. Contact Heather if you would like to inquire about obtaining her freelance writing services. You can view more articles and resources from Heather at and email her at [email protected] You can also advertise your autism services at one of Heather's websites: Heather is the developer of the "One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum."


7 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment

APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2014). Play Therapy Tips for Children with Autism. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2020, from