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Episode #035: Play and Social Skills for Young Autistic Students

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As we prepare to go back to the classroom for face-to-face education, I think it’s important to talk about play and social skills for our younger students. Unstructured play time can be something students with Autism or other complex communication issues really struggle with.

Often these students do not independently engage so it’s important to ask, “What can I do to help these kids engage?” As a therapist, my goal is to facilitate peer-to-peer interaction and encourage shared activity. One of the ways I do this is by implementing modified games at the end of group therapy. These games look very different from their original counterparts. This is because they are more accessible for students with Autism and other complex communication issues by eliminating the need for strategy and putting the emphasis on a shared group experience.

Modified Games

Musical Chairs

As opposed to traditional musical chairs, I never take a chair away. I give the directions, “when you hear the music you walk when it stops you sit down”. This is fun because the students are moving and you can use popular music or themed music. All you need is a device to play music like your cell phone, chairs, and the students.


Cards of all different types to play this game are usually readily available. This game can typically take an hour or more, so to cut time and make it more accessible, I remove the majority of matches. I go through and pick the matches, and put one part of the matches in a pile face down, and then line up the other part of the matches face up. This way they can see all the pictures. They take turns picking a card and finding the match. What’s great about this is that it is a game that they can definitely play at home with their parents or family too!

Simon Says

I modify this game by ALWAYS saying “Simon says”. Essentially I am the leader (Simon) and I am giving directions and demonstrating and they are following directions by imitating. This is not only great practice for leisure skills but also imitation.


This is a free website with amazing dances and brain breaks. If you have a smart board, you can let students go up and pick the video. All the dances have motions to imitate and cooperate with the group, they are so fun and interactive that you’ll want to move along too!

The Grocery Store Game

I’ve been playing this game for 20 years, it is super fun. You write different letters of the alphabet down. The sentence starter for this game is “I bought…”. Go around the room and start with the letter and have students say what they bought with the corresponding letter, i.e. “I bought apples…I bought bananas…etc.” I have even created a resource with visuals to help students who are having difficulty recalling a word. A great thing about this is that it is also accessible to students using AAC devices.

There are a lot of things you can work on as a therapist in group settings: Greetings, engaging in the group, student engaging in a variety of tasks, expanding leisure repertoire, joining others in play, and sustained social time. All of these are accessible for students who are yet verbally communicating, up to students who are fully conversational.

I put these resources together to provide real tips and strategies to put to use to increase communication in play and social skills across all environments. I really want you to feel comfortable and ready to get to work helping your students and children. There is so much communication involved in interaction and fun that should be explored!


What’s Inside:

  • Play and Social skills for students with autism and other complex communication issues.
  • Tips for returning to face-to-face school post-pandemic.
  • Providing all day communication, practicing individually and with peers.
  • Facilitating peer-to-peer interactions.

Mentioned In This Episode

— @ABASpeechByRose
— Make sure to get on the waitlist for our new toddler/preschool aged autism course- Start Communicating Today
— Video Model Modified Memory
— Go Noodle
— Grocery Store Game Visuals

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