Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Suggestions, Integrated Play, and Expert Players

Image: My son and a friend look at a gift from another child. The two are typically developing children who can be defined by Author Pamela Wolfberg as expert players. In the unseen background is my ten year old son with a mild form of ASD. He is a child who can be defined as a novice player. To my delight, he played with balloons and hit a rainbow pinata along with the four other typically developing children.

Current series at Autism Blog: teaching children with Autism Spectrum Disorder how to play.

I have great news. After publishing my last post, I discovered that Pamela Wolfberg has written a revised edition of her book, Play and Imagination in Children with Autism. It will be available on Amazon by April 4, 2009. She also has written a book titled Peer Play and the Autism Spectrum: The Art of Guiding Children's Socialization and Imagination (2003) which also looks promising. In the meantime, here are some summarized ideas from her previous version of Play and Imagination in Children with Autism (1999) that are still relevant today.

Defining Play:

According to Wolfberg's research, play is a voluntary, pleasurable activity that requires actives engagement with other children and/or toys, etc. Sometimes play has a non literal orientation meaning that a blanket can become a flying magic carpet or an entire living room can become a jungle. With play activities such as playing house, for example, there is a greater attention on the process of playing rather than obtaining a goal, (well it should be that way, though some children get competitive during games.) Amongst typically developing children play is a flexible and changing activity.

Importance of Play: When playing children learn how to communicate with both words and symbols (the blanket as a magic carpet, for example) while also learning social skills such as taking turns that will help them gain social acceptance by peers.

Integrated Play Groups: Pamela Wolfberg's book is a result of her research on a comprehensive play intervention for children with autism. The name of this intervention is integrated play groups. The group is composed of two groups of players: expert players who are a typically developing children who have an inborn ability to engage in social and symbolic play; and novice players, children with autism spectrum disorder who need to learn how to engage in social and symbolic play. The groups is monitored by a group guide whose role is to observe and interpret the activities and interactions of both groups.

My thoughts: I believe her Integrated Play Group model has possibilities as a low cost intervention that can benefit most children with ASD, whether they live in a densely populated urban area with many therapeutic choices available or in sparsely rural settings where choices for families are limited. I would love to see this model imitated in communities across the United States and beyond. For more information about integrated play groups please click on this link, which will take you to the Autism Institute, a site with which Pamela Wolfberg is affiliated.

My next post: An essay about the difficulties that one particular child (my son) with ASD has had with playtime.

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