Study Shows Benefits of ‘Integrated Play Groups’ for Kids with Autism

It’s a common challenge for parents of children with autism: How to help their child learn to play well with other children.

A new study,  funded by Autism Speaks, suggests that one key may be providing the right amount of guidance to encourage kid-directed imaginative play. The study report appears in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

The researchers designed their study to measure the benefits of a program called Integrated Play Groups. Developed over the last decade by study co-author Pamela Wolfberg, the program encourages children with autism and their typically developing peers to engage in creative play of mutual interest. An adult facilitator initiates but doesn’t direct the play. This sets the program apart from more traditional, highly structured programs for teaching social skills to children with autism.

The goal is to move children with autism from a repetitive, solitary pattern of play to one that involves interaction and imagination, Dr. Wolfberg says.

Dr. Wolfberg’s team at San Francisco State University enrolled 48 children with autism (41 boys and 7 girls), ages 5 to 10, in the program. The children ranged from mildly to severely affected by the disorder. In addition, the program included 144 age-matched children with typical development.

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