A team of researchers has been investigating ways to make play sets more interactive in order to benefit children with autism.
William Farr and Nicola Yuill of the University of Sussex, UK and Steve Hinske of ETH Zurich, Switzerland, explain that children with autism often have difficulties with social interaction and also have an impaired understanding of the way objects interact.
By making play sets more interactive the team hopes to give children with autism opportunities to control and add content of their own to the game – this could improve cooperative play with other children as well as providing improved confidence in understanding how objects interact.
They have been investigating how toys might be modified to be more beneficial to children with autism and perhaps even act as a therapeutic tool.
The team took a popular Playmobil Knight’s Castle play set and augmented it by adding a wireless networking system and radio frequency identification tags (RFIDs). The play set can then be produce sound or movement according to certain actions by the child playing.
Using this “Augmented Knight’s Castle” (AKC) was shown to improve the level of interaction with other children playing with the toys. The research team noticed a decrease in solitary play and more parallel and cooperative play.
The AKC could reduce isolation for children with autism by giving them an increased understanding of how to control and engage with objects and therefore other children.
While the play set could be used in a therapeutic way, the team points out; it could also be used diagnostically. It could be used to compile evidence of a baseline of autistic behavior, from there a child’s position on the autistic spectrum could be aligned. This could help improve borderline diagnosis so that a child’s subtle impairments could be addressed.
Here at Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices, our curriculum, portfolios and toys are all individualized and modified to fit the needs of the students we serve.
Educational Director at Shema Kolainu, Gili Rechany notes “augmented play is used to elicit language and condition appropriate play with toys and peers. Toys are often used in conjunction with sound, texture or movement to be conditioned as a reinforcer.”
We often use devices such as the iPad for independent work, assessment and leisurely play. For children who are more delayed a switch button is used to activate toys with sounds and lights to teach cause and effect and basic communicative skills.
We have found that social stories and interactive musical and language programs are effective in teaching daily routines, coping mechanisms and conversational skills. Using augmented play is one of the many ways we help our students to develop the skills to reach their greatest potential.