How to play with an autistic child

Play routine

Do you struggle to interact with your child or find it hard to play with them? Do they have limited attention and or communication? If yes then give a play routine a try.

Most children will play naturally but many autistic children need to learn how to play. Every child is different but if you are struggling to interact and play with a child then it is worth trying a play routine.

Structure and routines provide clarity of what will happen so having a play routine that you do regularly will help build your child’s confidence with play. Supporting visuals will increase understanding of what is happening and be particularly important to children who struggles with communication.

The following example of a play routine can be used with any child and adapted to suit their level and interests. It is designed to be interactive between the adult and child and can be used 1-1 or with a group.

Our really easy play routine

How to play with an autistic child
Play routine visual schedule

The point of the routine is to keep it the same, I would initially try it once a week for 6 weeks and see how you get on. My inspiration for this comes from the portage support we got from our local children’s centre. A support worker would come for an hour a week and play with my son, it would be the same every week and he would get really excited when he knew what was coming next.

A visual schedule showing your play routine is key to implementing the routine easily. Here is a copy of this one which you can use or adapt to your own routine:

Get friends and family involved

I appreciate not everyone has supportive friends or family particularly when you are going through a diagnosis process. However for those that do this is a great way for others to help if they want to. If Granny can come over once a week and do a play routine it will give you an hour off and help her to understand a way to play and interact with your child. It is also a good way to show someone how much difference visuals and structure can make if that is right for the child.

Remember many children will struggle with change or something new so the first week or two might be harder work. Stick to the routine and clearly use the visual as you go.

Before you start always make sure TV or music is all off and toys are away so there are less distractions. You want your child giving you their attention.

Start with hello

This may seem a bit odd when you are the parent with the child and you have been together all the time. However our kids are learning to interact and at the start we say hello. You can change this to a morning song or something else if it suits but I like using greetings as it is something both my kids still need to work on and it provides a clear start point.

I use the following hello song ‘Hello (child’s name), Hello (child’s name), Hello (child’s name), It’s good to see you here.’ This is then repeated for everyone in the room, pointing at the individuals we are greeting and giving them a wave.

The start can be the hardest bit to get your child’s attention. If you can get them sit them with you do but don’t stress about it, as long as they are there and can see and hear what you are doing.


Next I use bubbles as for most this is a brilliant attention grabber. Just blow some bubbles and encourage simple communication like ‘pop’ and ‘more bubbles. Remember we want our kids to enjoy the routine and have fun so enjoy it with them.

Nursery Rhyme – 10 Green Bottles

I have a visual we use for this one which you can download and make up to use (below). This is great to give your kids a role in the nursery rhyme. When it is time for the bottle to fall off the wall as you sing your child can pull off the bottle and make it fall. If there is more than one child they can take turns.

Ten green bottles visual aid
Ten green bottles visual

Here is a link if you have forgotten the lyrics to ten green bottles.


Next is another quick one I blow up a balloon, say ‘ready, steady, go’ and let it fly round the room and repeat a few times. This is where you should read how much the child is enjoying it to decide when to move on. If they are unhappy move on quickly, if they are having fun keep going but just a few goes so they will still want to do it next time.

Story Time

The last activity before goodbye. At first I would use the same book but once the child is happy with the routine you can change the book each time. Although don’t be surprised if they want the same story and if they are upset then allow the same story but maybe add another in also.

This is another activity where it is best to involve the child to keep their attention. Choose a book suitable for their level Dear Zoo is a good starter book. To get the kids involved have either pictures or toys that they can match with the story as you go along. We have been using the Gruffalo as we have all the characters and its a favourite for my boys. For more inspiration check out my story play post.

Gruffalo play
Gruffalo story play

End with goodbye

Using a goodbye song helps to show that we are finished with the routine. I use another song I picked up at a local children’s centre but use anything you are familiar with.

The Goodbye song – ‘The goodbye train is coming see you soon, choo choo. Oh the goodbye train is coming see you soon, choo choo. So we say goodbye to everyone, say goodbye to everyone, say goodbye to everyone see you soon, choo choo.’

Supported play

You may have professionals doing similar activities with your kids but doing it at home will help provide a comfortable environment for the child.

The real benefit of this play routine is it is supported and designed for children with communication difficulties but visual strengths. Also you can easily adapt the activities to suit the child. If you have an older child you may want to look at my post about TEACCH which has similar basis but is designed to support teaching your child.

Free Ten Green Bottles Visual Resource

You can download a copy of my Ten Green Bottles resource. You can print it onto card or paper but if you can laminate it and add ‘velcro’ spots it will last longer and the kids will enjoy pulling them off.

velcro visual for nursery rhyme
Making a visual aid

Using play routines really helps my youngest and he gets really involved. I tried this one out with both my boys and my 6 year old had as much fun as his brother. Have you tried any play routines with your kids? What would you include in your routine?

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  1. 18th July 2020 / 11:01 pm

    Lots of great ideas and resources here. #KCACOLS

  2. 19th July 2020 / 12:56 am

    Great tips – looks fun too. #KCACOLS (love the idea of matching the toys with the story)

  3. 19th July 2020 / 4:27 am

    Interesting read. I’ve learned more about autism and its challenges from reading blogs than I would have ever known otherwise. Thanks for sharing #KCACOLS

    • admin
      19th July 2020 / 7:52 am

      Your welcome it’s all about raising awareness x

  4. 19th July 2020 / 9:37 am

    Really interesting, and no doubt useful … very practical and clearly explained. #KCACOLS

    • admin
      19th July 2020 / 9:45 am

      Thank you xx

  5. 19th July 2020 / 2:32 pm

    Lots of great ideas, this is definitely a good resource of valuable information. #KCACOLS

  6. 19th July 2020 / 2:57 pm

    Hi it’s Brenda from Stopping by from #KCACOLS My 18yo daughter has Aspbergers. I remember how “challenging” it was to play with her when she was younger. Keep up the great work!

    • admin
      19th July 2020 / 3:43 pm

      Thanks Brenda. Trying to capture those things that I found so hard but now have great methods to help xx

  7. 19th July 2020 / 8:28 pm

    Good tips, my son who has autism struggles with the end especially if he loses. We are working on his anger but it takes time to learn a new set of rules so have to keep practising to get familiar X #kcacols

    • admin
      20th July 2020 / 10:44 am

      It is so hard introducing new rules but as you say it becomes familiar over time xx

  8. 19th July 2020 / 10:17 pm

    These all look like really great ideas. Such an informative post, thank you. #KCACOLS

  9. 20th July 2020 / 3:15 pm

    My lad finds the puppets a bit difficult to actually use with the story, he likes them wherever they are stored. But he has benefitted from routine play – especially with things like dolls houses and making a routine for the dolls. #kcacols

    • admin
      20th July 2020 / 6:12 pm

      Finding the right thing for each kid makes all the difference and routines can really help but how they work can vary so much from child to child xx

  10. Shelley Whittaker
    21st July 2020 / 12:02 pm

    This is a really great idea – thanks for sharing. My daughter has been singing the ‘hello’ song so I guess they must have been implementing similar routines at nursery which is reassuring. #KCACOLS

  11. 25th July 2020 / 1:37 pm

    Amazing post, play routines are super effective in engaging children and encouraging play and learning. I found play routines especially valuable when planning as a key worker x x #KCACOLS

    • admin
      25th July 2020 / 2:04 pm

      Thanks it was our key worker that helped me realise how great they are x

  12. 27th July 2020 / 2:57 pm

    This is so interesting, Roughly how long would a play routine like this take? xx #KCACOLS

    • admin
      27th July 2020 / 3:12 pm

      Hi Hannah it depends on the child and the person doing it but usually somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes. Used to take use about 45 minutes because we kept having to prompt bring my son back to the activity of he got distracted but now we fly through it.

  13. 29th July 2020 / 12:31 pm

    This is a fascinating insight. I love the sound of incorporating the balloons and bubbles. #KCACOLS

  14. 1st August 2020 / 11:53 am

    Bubbles are a huge hit in our house & fun for all ages including grown ups too! #KCACOLS

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