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Following your child’s lead is good because your child learns most when he’s interested in play.

You don’t need any special equipment for child-led play.

Child-led play starts with noticing what your child is interested in and then going along with it

Child-led play: why it’s good for babies and children

Child-led play means following your child’s lead in play. It means watching your child and responding to what she says or does to keep her attention focused a little bit longer.
Following your child’s lead is good because your child learns best when he’s interested in an activity. When you follow your child’s lead in play, you can take advantage of things that interest him to help him learn something new through play.
Also, when your child leads, she builds communication skills and learns how she can influence things around her.

What you need for child-led play

You don’t need any equipment for child-led play.
All you do is follow whatever your child is interested in at the time. This might be a toy or something in the environment, like a bird or a fire truck. It might even be you, and the funny faces and sounds you’re making together.

How to follow your child’s lead in play

Start by noticing what your child is interested in. It could be something he’s playing with, like a ball, or something he’s doing, like jumping through puddles.

Ask your child if you can join in.

Go along with what your child is doing. If she rolls a ball to you, you might roll it back. Stay focused on the activity. Avoid distracting your child or changing the way the activity is happening.

Ask questions or comment on what you’re both doing – for example, ‘That was a big roll – I nearly missed it!’ Give your child time to respond.

If your child changes to something new, let him be the leader. For example, if he stops rolling the ball and starts playing with blocks, move to the blocks with him.

Adapting child-led play for babies and younger children

Even babies can lead play. You can follow your baby’s eye direction to see what she’s interested in.
For example, ‘Is that Auntie there on the sofa? What’s she doing? Is she waving at you?’ If your baby responds with gurgles or babble, keep talking as though you’re having a conversation.
Or if you see your baby looking at a toy, like a brightly coloured rattle, move it closer to him, and let him try to hold it or shake it.

Tips for making the most of play for autistic children

Here are some tips to help you and your child get the most out of play:

Encourage play in different environments. For example, if your child likes playing with Lego at home, encourage your child to play with Lego at a friend’s house. Reward your child for playing and using their skills in different places and with different people.

Watch your child throughout the day and look for the times when your child shows interest in an activity, however ordinary it might seem to you. These are the perfect times to teach and learn.

Use play to help your child develop everyday skills. For example, dressing a doll or changing in and out of dress-ups can help your child learn to dress themselves.

Follow your child’s lead with play. Join in with your child’s play, rather than trying to guide it. And watch for signs that your child is getting bored or losing interest – knowing when to stop or change is important.

Work with your child’s thinking and learning strengths. For example, if your child is a visual learner, you can work with this strength by using pictures of the different steps in a game or activity.

You can help autistic children learn everyday skills by breaking tasks into steps and teaching each step in turn.

Choose a task to focus on, break it into steps, and teach the steps one at a time.

You can teach steps backwards or forwards.

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