Play Development in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Games are activities that are fun and pleasurable for the person playing the game, are carried out with an internal motivation, do not have an external goal, and are performed spontaneously and voluntarily with the active participation of the individuals participating in the game. Play has an important place in child development because of its contribution to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional development of children. Lifter and Bloom (1998) suggested that play has two functions for the child.

The first is that, similar to language, it is one of the ways that children can use to embody and reveal symbols of what is in their minds. Therefore, play is one of the child’s forms of self-expression. Secondly, play is a tool for children to learn about objects, events and relationships in their environment by interpreting the results of their own actions and reviewing their previous knowledge, hence it has an interpretative function. However, play is also one of the ways children show what they know about the world around them. In addition to symbolic understanding, game development is important in understanding how objects work and how actions affect outcomes, understanding how individuals behave in certain situations and interpersonal relationships.

Baby and parent start playing with each other from birth. Babies can show start-up behavior when they are 6 weeks old. The ability to adapt to social games develops at an average of 13 weeks, and babies give signals that they are ready to start playing during this period. Depending on the cognitive development of the child, game development is also divided into stages. Piaget (1951) suggested that play in children is related to cognitive development and discussed play development in three developmental stages: 1) practice games, 2) symbolic play, and 3) games with rules. According to Piaget, practice games can be considered as sensory-motor games, which are put forward with behaviors such as hitting and throwing, aimed at discovering objects that develop in children in the early stages. According to Piaget, symbolic play that develops after practice games is a type of play that emerges when the child begins to create representations in his mind for the objects around him, that is, with the development of cognitively symbolic thinking. Symbolic game objects can be presented in three ways: using them instead of another object, adding new features to the object (making the baby sick, etc.) and pretending to exist for something that does not exist in the game. Games with rules, which are the third stage of developmental play, are games such as football and hide-and-seek that are played within the framework of predetermined rules.

Children with ASD show different characteristics from each other in their play development in relation to individual differences in their social and cognitive development and language competencies. Stone et al. (1990), in their study comparing the play and imitation behaviors of children with ASD, intellectual disability, hearing impairment, language impairment, and normal development, found that children with ASD interacted with toys less than all groups. They found that children with ASD showed lower performance than other groups in terms of using toys for their intended purpose and engaging in functional play actions. Researchers determined that imitation and functional play behaviors distinguish children with ASD from other groups and suggested that limitations in play skills and imitation development are behaviors specific to ASD. Children with ASD may make unusual play preferences compared to their normally developing peers, or they may be overly concerned with a distinctive feature of the object used in the game. Naturally, the play behaviors of children with ASD consist of poor play behaviors, flexibility and creativity.

In a study on object-use behaviors in children with ASD, Rowland and Schweigert (2009) found that children with ASD aged 2-5 were lower than their normally developed peers in terms of social use of objects, symbolic use, behaviors of acquiring an inaccessible object, and use of the object in accordance with its function. They found that they performed poorly, especially in the symbolic use of the object and in social use behaviors. In addition, children with ASD exhibit more repetitive behaviors when using objects than children with normal development. Retrospective video analyzes revealed that children with ASD show more behaviors of putting objects into their mouths than children with normal development in the first years of their lives. In another study conducted with the analysis of retrospective video recordings, Baranek et al. (2005) compared objects and games between 9-12 months of age in children with ASD with those of children with normal development and developmental delay. In this study, it was found that there was no significant difference between the rates of interest in objects of children with ASD and other groups. More importantly, it was found that there was no significant difference between the rates of exploratory play. According to the results of the research, only children who develop normally between the ages of 9-12 months have functional play with objects, but no functional play behaviors can be observed in the other two groups. Children’s interactions with objects in their environment reflect their understanding of the social world and their knowledge of how to use objects to achieve desired results. Behaviors of interaction with the object not only include the physical manipulation of the object, but also show the knowledge of the individual interacting with the object about how the objects are used, what ways he will use to reach the desired object, the relationship between objects and the relationship between the individual and the object. Object relations emerge mostly with object-play behaviors in normally developing children and make significant contributions to the child’s cognitive and social development.

In addition to the use of objects, children with ASD have limitations in game development starting from an early age. 18-24 in children with ASD. There are limitations in symbolic skills or representational thinking competencies between months. In their study examining the communication behaviors of children with ASD, Charman et al. (1997) found that 20-month-old children with ASD performed more limited pretend play than children with normal development, and there was no significant difference between the three groups in functional play behaviors. As a result of this study, the researchers suggested that the disorders seen in play are only related to symbolic play behaviors. In the study, they found that children with ASD showed limitations in using one object symbolically instead of another, even in situations that were modeled and hinted. Wetherby et al. (2007), 18-24. They found that children with developmental delay and ASD both showed significantly lower performance in symbolic skills and proficiency in using representational objects, when compared to children with normal development between the ages of 12 months and 12 months. The limitations experienced by children with ASD in their symbolic play skills have been demonstrated by many studies. Libby et al. (1998), as a result of their study comparing the spontaneous participation in play behaviors of children with ASD compared to children with Down syndrome and normal development, matched according to their verbal development level, found that children with ASD experienced limitations in playing symbolic games compared to the other two groups, especially the number of symbolic play acts. They found that this difference was more obvious when taken into account. It was observed that there was no significant difference between functional play behaviors, however, they exhibited more sensory-motor play than the other groups. Williams et al. (2001) suggested that although children with ASD exhibit functional play at the same rate as their peers, there are serious differences regarding the quality of play. In their research, they found that play in children with ASD was limited, especially in terms of the variety, detail and complementarity of play schemes. In children with ASD, they are not aware of the fact that they create meaning in the game, add less fun-like schemas to the game, do not create symbolic meanings, and in general create creative and fun games in symbolic play behaviors compared to children with developmental delay who are matched according to their verbal language performance and level of play. features have limitations.

As a result, when the literature is examined, it is seen that children with ASD experience limitations in their play skills from an early age, and they perform lower than children with normal development and developmental delay, especially in symbolic play skills. Since symbolic play skills are related to language development, it is thought that the limitations experienced in symbolic play skills in children with ASD may have an important role in language development.

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