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  • Writer's pictureSATC Team

Empowering Neurodiverse Independence: How Parents can Teach Self-Help Skills Through Play for Autist


Parenting a child with autism is a unique journey that celebrates the beauty of neurodiversity. Early intervention is paramount in supporting autistic children's development, and one crucial aspect is teaching self-help skills. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy plays an important role in early intervention, incorporating play-based techniques which make the learning process both enjoyable and effective.

In this article, we will explore ways parents can teach self-help skills through play to their autistic children, emphasising the importance of neuro-affirming approaches.

Understanding Autism and Early Intervention

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that manifests in various ways, often involving differences in communication, sensory sensitivities, and preferences. Early intervention, initiated as soon as possible, is essential for helping children with autism build essential skills, including self-help skills. This proactive approach maximises their potential for growth and independence.

The Significance of Self-Help Skills

Self-help skills encompass a range of essential activities for daily living, including dressing, grooming, mealtime tasks, and personal hygiene. These skills empower individuals to become more self-reliant and independent in their daily routines, fostering a sense of confidence and accomplishment. For autistic children, developing these skills is vital for their overall well-being and quality of life.

Using Play to Teach Self-Help Skills

1. Dress-Up Play: Encourage your child to engage in dress-up play with costumes and clothing items. This activity allows them to practice putting on and taking off clothes, fastening buttons, and zipping zippers in a fun and imaginative way.

2. Pretend Play: Role-playing can be a powerful tool for teaching self-help skills. Create scenarios where your child can pretend to be a chef, hairstylist, or dentist, allowing them to practice skills like meal preparation, brushing hair, or teeth brushing.

3. Kitchen Adventures: Cooking together is an excellent opportunity to teach self-help skills related to meal preparation and safety. Your child can help measure ingredients, stir, and even learn basic knife skills under close supervision.

4. Potty Training Games: Potty training can be challenging for some autistic children. Use play-based techniques to make it less daunting. Incorporate dolls or action figures into the process and create a game around using the toilet, emphasising independence and self-care.

5. Sensory Play for Bath Time: Many autistic children has sensory sensitivities. Make bath time a sensory-friendly experience with colourful bath bombs, scented soap, and textured sponges. Encourage your child to wash themselves while exploring sensory elements.

6. Story-Based Learning: Create social stories or visual schedules that depict self-help routines. Use these tools to narrate and illustrate the steps involved in tasks like brushing teeth, getting dressed, or washing hands.

7. Daily Routine Games: Turn daily routines into games by setting a timer or incorporating a reward system. Challenge your child to complete tasks within a specific time frame, making the process more engaging.

Embracing Neuro-Affirming Approaches

Incorporating neuro-affirming approaches is essential when teaching self-help skills to autistic children. Here's how parents can create a supportive and inclusive environment:

1. Individualised Support: Recognise and cater to your child's unique needs and pace of development. Be patient, flexible, and adapt activities to ensure they are comfortable and engaged.

2. Positive Reinforcement: Celebrate your child's efforts and achievements, regardless of how small they may seem. Positive reinforcement boosts self-esteem and motivates further participation.

3. Visual Supports: Implement visual supports like schedules, charts, and social stories to help your child understand and navigate self-help routines.

4. Sensory Considerations: Be mindful of sensory sensitivities and tailor self-help activities to accommodate your child's sensory preferences. Create a calming space for sensory breaks when needed.

5. Peer Interaction: Promote social interaction by arranging playdates or group activities, fostering both self-help skill development and social skills growth.

Empowering Your Child to Think Independently & Take on the World

Incorporating play-based techniques into your autistic child's daily routine can empower them to develop self-help skills while celebrating their unique neurodiversity. ABA therapy and early intervention remain critical components of support - embracing neuro-affirming approaches which ensures a positive learning environment that enhances your child's overall development. Embrace the journey of teaching self-help skills through play, celebrate your child's achievements, and watch them blossom into confident and independent individuals ready to take on the world.


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