Survey Shows Children with Autism Prefer Certain Kinds of Play

Kathy Ralabate Doody of SUNY Buffalo State collaborated with Jana Mertz, a program coordinator at the Autism Spectrum Disorder Center at the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, found that children with autism prefer certain kinds of play methods. Specifically, these children prefer systematic and repetitive play, offering a broad range of sensory stimulation.

These findings stemmed from a survey conducted at the Explore & More Museum’s “Au-some Evening,” which is tailored to children with autism (for more information on museums with programs for children with autism click here). The two found that these children were drawn to games and activities “that provided strong sensory feedback, cause-and-effect results, and repetitive motions.”[i] The “Climbing Stairs” activity was a big hit for these children, climbing a short staircase, dropping a small ball, and watching the ball go down the steps. A spinning windmill was also a big hit among the children, as well as a table to pour uncooked rice through the kids’ fingers.

Most of the preferred activities also engaged the children in their unknown senses, including the vestibular and proprioception senses, associated with movement and motion. Studies have previously shown that those with autism “seek to satisfy an insatiable need for kinetic stimuli.” A typical deficit among the autistic population is a lack of verbal communication, so knowing that many kids with autism prefer these activities can help parents provide entertainment for their children. Doody also suggests that,

“A child who is playing alone is developing a degree of independence. That can enable the parent of caregiver to engage in other activities, like making dinner or attending to another child. Parents might use a snow globe so that child can observe movement. Aquariums or water sculptures provide movement, too.”

While too much alone time may not be ideal for autistic children, as many of them struggle with social interactions, knowing what independent activities they can enjoy and benefit from is important and useful.

[i] “Medical Daily” Autism and play: Preferred activities help engage children with autism spectrum disorder. 18 Aug 2013. Web. <>