Adaptive Play and its benefits for children with Autism



Adaptive Play began as an alternative to traditional structured curriculum for children with learning, behavioral, and/or physical challenges. Play is a great distractor tool for children because it allows them to have fun, express their feelings, and have self-actualization through toys. Adaptive Play allows children to participate in activities that target the development of cognitive, social and motor skills. Adaptive Play also encourages cause and effect planning skills, abstract thinking, and science and technology at the child’s pace. Although adaptive play is beneficial for all children, research has proven on countless occasions that it is particularly effective in children on the Autism spectrum.  Autism is defined as developmental difficulties in social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication, and brain development. As Autism prevalence grows, with one in 68 children on the spectrum, it is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the nation. Children with autism have a unique way of communicating and often lack socialization skills, and so adaptive play encourages interaction.

Adaptive Play is play that is altered to accommodate the needs of a child. For example, some children are highly sensitive to loud noises, bright lights, crowds, or other factors.  During adaptive play, lights can be dimmed, music lowered or other accommodations can be made to meet the specific needs of the children participating.  Often families seek closed environments because of situational factors, such as the availability of attentive program instructors and the presence of behavioral therapists to observe and anticipate additional needs.  Adaptive Play offers a supportive learning environment where children can play with their families and other children without worrying about judgment from the public. Adaptive Play usually offers a therapist onsite for behavioral support and interventions, and a genuine ear to listen. Adaptive Play also gives parents the opportunity to feel supported and to observe activities that can be replicated at home to help bring down communication barriers. According to Snapology’s Director of Community Outreach Kelly Carpenter, their research concluded that families want a safe place to go whether their needs are closed to the public or all-inclusive. Adaptive Play encourages children to interact with their family and siblings in a closed environment. The closed environment enforces a nonjudgmental and safe place for children to be themselves without being concerned if their actions will be condemned, and allows children to guide their own play instead of a structured curriculum to release the tension of learning at a certain rate.

Some parents are unaware that there are alternative situations that create this dynamic behavior because they think their parenting skills are a contributing factor. Adaptive Play can be customized to the specific needs of children so they can express their feelings without encountering negative interactions, and are also supported through their struggles and frustrations. “Families want respite care, a safe place to take their children so they can take a deep breath or have coffee with friends or even talk with a group about other options for their kids,” says Carpenter.

  An important aspect of Adaptive Play is helping children develop essential social skills like expressing their feelings in constructive ways. Structured Adaptive Play allows children to show what they are feeling internally by configuring objects and toys. Asking children to build something and then explain how that toy feels insinuates how the child feels. Allowing the children to express their feelings through toys releases the pressure of miscommunication. The opportunity to express their feelings through toys acts as a distractor, and allows them to open up without faulting their own capabilities. A very abstract task becomes concrete as the child sees what they are thinking. According to Snapology’s research, when the creative portion of your brain steps forward the barriers drop. “It is fascinating to watch a child, who struggles finding the words to tell us what they are thinking, build a structure based on a prompt and then tell a group of children what they built,” said Carpenter. “You suddenly see a thought become a reality.”

Sisters Laura and Lisa Coe co-founded Snapology, an interactive play-based concept offering programs that teach STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) and other concepts mainly using building materials such as LEGO® bricks and related technology. Snapology programs are designed to be inclusive of all children and learning abilities through creating adaptations to each lesson plan to accommodate children with special needs.  Snapology incorporates several adaptive play program options that emphasize creativity, and welcome children of any learning style or ability.  Some of these Discovery Center activities include: Preschool Play Corner with cars, toys and building blocks, mosaic tables, an interactive gaming room and the Imagination Station using building blocks.

Snapology’s Adaptive Play Program invites children for less structured play in a safe, friendly closed environment. Snapology’s CONNECTIONS class uses LEGO® bricks as the mechanism for children to interact in a more structured way with each other. The program is in a closed small-group setting with a behavioral health consultant present.