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How to Play with Your Autistic Child

Marble crystal clear ball, rainbow multicolored glitter sparkles background. how to play with an autistic child on the spectrum with autism.

Editor’s note: This post has been published on our social media, but since it was so widely shared, we chose to make it into a post. A printable version is available here.

If your autistic child is playing by lining up toys or doing something repetitive, bring your own toys, assume a reasonable distance, and play happily and silently. Use sparkly toys, blocks, cars, spinning toys, pots and pans, kinetic sand, magnets, canned food, stickers, dry pasta, colorful dough, etc.

Try something new if it doesn’t work the first time. Make a craft. Spin something that sparkles. Meditate and quiet your mind. Find contentment in not worrying, fixing, controlling. Let it all go and stare into a shiny pinwheel.

Watch the way the light bounces and bends, sending a spattering of dancing lights over your face and chest. Grab a handful of raw pasta and let it fall from your fingers and try to feel and visualize how many have fallen.

Put an individual drop of water on the back of your hand. See if you can feel each fine, barely-visible hair bend as it slides off. Don’t think of autism. Don’t think of bills. Don’t think. Experience. Breathe consciously. Conjure a beautiful or a fiery song in your head.

See if you can make your mind play each note in memory. If you can’t, listen harder next time. Don’t hear. Listen. Once you have learned to be still, present, breathing, realize how connected you feel to your child, and to all things, in that moment.

Your child might be curious to join you. They might give you the most profound gift of communicating without the baggage and bondage of words. You will learn nothing. You will unlearn. If your child doesn’t join, just feel. Feel close. Don’t feel disappointed. Feel love. Relax.

Your child might be so sensitive to your tension, worry, and fear that they internalize it. Just be. Think like your child. Lie opposite your child and color in a coloring book. Knit. Blow bubbles in the house. Color on the walls and laugh at how fun it is. Magic erasers work.

Eat your dinner while sitting on the floor. Use your fingers. Do this more often, and watch your relationship transform. Play like an autistic and watch your life improve. Laugh at yourself for playing, not in a performative way. Belly laugh at the rebellion.

If your child joins, great. If not, great. You have spent quality time together. You have communicated something profound. You have said: I enjoy being me while you’re being you– together.

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