Autism: Teaching Play Skills with a Shoebox

Autism: Using shoeboxes to teach play skills by Looks Like Language
What about play skills for your kids with ASD who don’t even know how to play? You know what I mean if you’ve seen your students do these:
•      * Look at a toy and touch it, then walk away
•      * Use a toy inappropriately
•      * Play only with the same toy over and over
•       * Instead of playing, line up the cars/figures/blocks

To begin building their play skills, they need 3D play items all the way! So you have an excuse to go buy a new pair of shoes! Just joking, but be sure to save some shoeboxes.

Autism: Using shoeboxes to teach play skills by Looks Like Language
Placing toys on a shoebox  to demonstrate play has a few benefits:
*It stabilizes the pieces  for kids with fine motor issues.
*The velcro helps the kids see where they need to move the figures.
*The hole at the end makes the pieces disappear to show that the task is finished.

The box stores all of the pieces nicely. Just take out two figures to start: one to model with and one for the child to move.

Increase the number of figures as the student learns the task. Then work on fading the box out of the play routine if the child’s ability to manipulate has improved with practice.


Playground Shoebox Play

Scrounge around for playground toys and figures that go with them if you don’t already have them. This time of year, you may find some inexpensive pieces at flea markets and yard sales!

Autism: Using shoeboxes to teach play skills by Looks Like Language
Your main playground piece goes in the middle. Leave room for 3-5 figures to fit on the box as if they were waiting in line to play.  After you have them placed, draw a box at the other end for the figures to exit into. Having a visually clear ‘all done’  is so important for working with ASD students, as it makes new tasks so much less overwhelming for them.

If the set up is clear visually, your students should be able to either imitate your model or move the figures with hand over hand physical prompting. This is not a following directions task! 

Once your students show that they have the idea, fade out whatever prompts you were using and the shoebox, as well! The photo shows two different playground play sequences for teaching lower functioning kids who have ASD. Use what you have available and be creative.

Autism: Using shoeboxes to teach play skills by Looks Like Language
The sliding board photos show what the sequence of play should look like when your student is ready to have the shoebox removed. Notice how all of the figures disappear after the play sequence?

Once the physical movements of the play sequence are easy, it is time to add the language! The first step is to use photos of your play sequence to make an adapted book and add the language there. Then move on to different play sequences. Adapted books and file folder sentence activities are my preferred way to go!

Don’t worry about adapting the toys. Your higher level students can still use them to play with a playground theme. Just take them out of the box! They may ask you at first why there is velcro on the toys, but then they ignore it. 

Just don’t store the pieces with velcro in a hot attic, garage or shed!
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