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Supporting Diversity in Play – All Play is okay!

When neurodivergent children are engaging in play, it may look ‘different’ to the play you might see in neurotypical children. However, it is important to acknowledge that all forms of play are okay!

Neurodivergent children can be supported to play in the ways in which they are interested, and that bring them joy. For some neurodivergent children, play may be focusing on the specific aspects of a toy, for example, spinning the wheels on a car.

Their play could be extremely focused on a topic of interest, such as dinosaurs, involve intricate details or exploration of sensory elements. It could look like choosing to play on their own, or beside other children.

We know all children act intentionally and with agency through play. These forms of play still have the same elements of neurotypical play which include:

  • It is enjoyable for the child? Is the play is bringing them joy!
  • It is freely chosen by the child? Are they engaging in play that interests them?
  • It is personally directed? Can they can decide where the play journey goes?

As an educator, you may like to reflect on the environmental elements within your setting that could support a child’s active participation and learning through play.

“Play-based learning approaches allow for different types of play and recognise the intentional roles that both children and educators may take in children’s learning”.

 When educators create environments in which all children experience mutually enjoyable, caring and respectful relationships with people and the environment, children respond in positive ways”.

— Early Years Learning Framework V2.0

Through play in a supportive learning environment, all children can learn and extend upon their strengths, skills and interests to support their ongoing development. As an educator, you can draw upon a range of strategies to support children in their play, such as modelling, prompting, scaffolding and fading.

Examples of this in practice include:

  • Commenting and narrating on what a child is enjoying. For example, “splash, splash, splash.”
  • Getting down to a child’s level and observing what it is the child is enjoying about the play or joining them by imitating their play. For example, you can lie down next to a child on the floor and spin the wheels of a car just as they are.
  • Waiting for moments where a child shares their enjoyment of their play with you. This could be through a look, a gesture, or a communication to start a back and forth interaction.
  • Considering what a child can do, rather than what they cannot do, to ensure the play meets their current skill level.
  • Balancing joining in with a child’s play – just sometimes – by letting them play solo. This respects their social and sensory capacities at different times of the day.

When supporting play with a neurodiversity affirming mindset, it is important to respect, honour, and find joy in a child’s way of engaging in play. Our role is not to shape a child’s play to be more like neurotypical play. It is to create an environment where every child can engage in their play preference.

 

References:

Australian Government Department of Education [AGDE] (2022). Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (V2.0). Australian Government Department of Education for the Ministerial Council. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2023-01/EYLF-2022-V2.0.pdf

 

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