More Shoebox Play for Autism- Cars

Happy Thanksgiving! Since the feast is upon us, you know that gift giving is coming soon. We often get asked for recommendations for toys from parents. With our more typical students, this isn’t usually difficult. But what about our students on the spectrum?

Does your child with autism just line cars up? Read More Shoebox Play - Cars!
Your student works happily to get some play time with small cars, but when he gets the cars he doesn’t actually play. All he does is line the cars up. Sometimes the cars are in size order, sometimes they are grouped by color, and sometimes there is no apparent pattern. Is there something we should do? And what in the world do we recommend when his parents ask us?

Your student shows that he is able to categorize by features, but he doesn’t get the function piece needed for representational play. How do we change this?

I love using shoeboxes to develop play skills for 3 reasons.


1. They make the play steps and ‘all done’ visually obvious.
2. They stabilize the toys to help with physical manipulation problems.
3. It makes one complete activity that the child can learn to do independently.

Design Your Own 

It is important to design the play shoebox so your student sees what to do and when it will be done from the visual set up. Another important piece is teaching how to use 2 or more objects together in play, since that is where make believe play begins.

Remember that when you are teaching a new skill, this is work! So, your student will work on learning how to play, but will get to line the cars up however he likes once the work is done.

Does your child with autism just line cars up? Read More Shoebox Play - Cars!
The photo shows one possible way to teach pushing toy cars and using them with a ramp to play. The little boy I used this with was nonverbal, with limited play skills, but he was able to learn how to make the cars go up and down the ramps on the shoebox. 

I faded the box by first using just the lid on the table, and then removing the lid. Eventually, he was able to request the color cars and ramps that he wanted and then play independently. 

You know that you have made progress when your student  requests cars and actually pushes them instead of just lining them up!

Does your child with autism just line cars up? Read More Shoebox Play - Cars!

Don't forget to add language skills! 


This photo shows how I put requesting into the activity, but communication is so much more than requesting! 

Add verbs and descriptive language, modeling visually and verbally. Use adapted books and expand the play to toy garages, roads and any other type of car play you can think of. 



But, what about IEP goals and academic standards?

Now, I know that there is great pressure put upon schools nowadays to align all work to educational standards. However, if you don’t help your students develop representational language and thinking skills, how are they going to comprehend higher level academics? 

And if they don’t know how to play, how are they going to develop friendships with their peers? Or the turn taking skills that are a basis for so many social interactions? My feeling is that helping with the language for play and behavioral difficulties are vital to include in your work with students, no matter what IEP goals you also have to address.

Where to start?

1. Figure out the level of your student’s play skills.
2. Pay attention to the toys your student takes out but doesn’t use appropriately.
3. Toys your students looks at, or picks up and sets down, can indicate interest without knowledge of what to do with the toy.

Working with Parents

1. Find out from the parents what kind of toys your student pays attention to at home, and exactly what he does with them.
2. Starting with a type of toy that is available at home has the benefit of offering more chances for carryover.

Suggestions for Parents

1. Buying a toy that is similar to one that your student knows how to play can be a good idea for carrying over play skills at home.
2. It is more beneficial for a student to have a toy he can play with appropriately than to buy a more advanced one that he doesn’t know how to use.
3. Consider asking a parent (who can afford it) to buy a toy that you will work on playing with in therapy sessions and send home when he can play with it independently.

If you found these suggestions to be helpful, you will want to check out my other shoebox play blog post here.

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Have a Happy Thanksgiving, friends!
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