Children Learn Through PLAY

Children around the world learn through play from the earliest stages of infancy. Playing with mom is the foundational learning experience for babies. Watch any young mom and you will see her looking into the baby’s eyes while talking and singing to her newborn child.  Four weeks later the baby begins to recognize his parents’ voices. Mom makes faces and tickles baby and the baby learns to respond with smiles and cooing.

Play continues to enhance learning as children grow. Recently I visited some public schools in Kenya and was intrigued with the motivational signs tacked to trees on the playgrounds and written on the school buildings. The sign below was one that caught my eye. WE LEARN THROUGH PLAY.

Children learn through PLAY.

Children learn through PLAY.

You may be a parent looking for ways to strengthen your child’s social learning. You may be a teacher wanting to incorporate play into your students’ school experience. Consider using TURN-TAKING GAMES AND ACTIVITIES to:

  • encourage children to share and cooperate with other children,
  • teach appropriate winning and losing behaviors, and
  • to enhance problem solving skills.

It is especially important for a child with autism and other social communication difficulties to spend time developing these skills. Adults can demonstrate how to play the games, how to wait for turns, and how to cooperate with others. Typically-developing children can then continue to model these appropriate behaviors with students who need more practice.

When a typically-developing student has an altercation with a student who has autism or other difficulties, I quickly consider the situation and the social communication level of the students. Then I ask the involved students to do the following three things:

  1. Sit on the floor (away from the rest of the class but where I can see them.)
  2. Talk to each other about what happened and decide what they will do better next time.
  3. Come tell me what they decide.

This exercise brings the conflict to a good conclusion most of the time. It gives both students time to think about:

  • what went wrong,
  • how the other person feels, and
  • how each one’s behavior affected the other.

If the students are not successful in resolving the situation themselves, I will ask them questions to help them think deeper about the situation. Here are just a few ideas of questions to ask.

  • “If someone did this to you (fill in the blank), how would you feel?”
  • “What do you think he was thinking about when he did this?
  • “What might be a better way of handling this next time?”
    • Could you try. . .?
    • Could you say. . .?
    • Could you…?

When a child is non-verbal or has severe social communication difficulties, education concerning the disability is imperative for the typically-developing playmate. Whenever possible, a parent or aide should be present.

What experiences have you had teaching children to take turns? I’d love to hear your experiences!

In my next blog, we’ll take a look at another type of play: COOPERATIVE PLAY.


Supporting YOU on your journey with autism.


Every Child Deserves Consistency

Children with autism thrive on consistency. Sameness can help them focus on the things that matter most. Consistency and structure offer special needs children the prospect of feeling comfortable with events in their day.


Here is a situation wiChalk.My Project_edited-2th one of my students named Elliot who was diagnosed with high functioning autism.


“Mrs. Robbins!” Elliot called out as he ran into the classroom first thing Monday morning. “You didn’t change the date on the board!”

“Would you like to change it for me, Elliot?” I asked.

“Sure!” he said.

Elliot checked the date every morning when he arrived at school. Then he checked the daily schedule to make sure there were no unexpected changes. When he knew his day promised to hold no surprises, Elliot was content and able to start his work. Not only was Elliot’s anxiety relieved by knowing what came next throughout the day, the rest of the students also benefited by knowing what to expect.

What if I would have answered Elliot negatively?

“Go sit down and start your work, Elliot.”

“But can I change the date first, Mrs. Robbins?”

“I’ll get to it in a minute. Just sit down and start your work!”

Because Elliot would be confused about my response, he would have been preoccupied with the wrong date staring at him and been unable to concentrate on his work. As the teacher, I would have been frustrated that Elliot wouldn’t just sit down and get started on his work like I asked him to. Chances are, even after I changed the date, Elliot would still have been thinking about it.

Children with autism need consistency in their daily lives. Understanding and working with their need instead of ignoring or pushing against it will result in better cooperation from the student and less frustration for all.

Benefits of a Classroom Visual Schedule

  • Helps clarify the sequence of the day.
  • Works well in inclusion classrooms. Children with autism and their typical peers can both benefit from their use.
  • Helps prepare students for transition between activities.
  • Helps children with ASD (autism) focus on relevant matters.
  • Increases independence.
  • Can be used outside the classroom such as at home, in church, or in therapy sessions.
  • Lessens anxiety levels of children with autism which results in fewer breakdowns.

Helpful notes about Classroom Visual Schedules

  • Keep the daily schedule posted in the same place in the classroom, home or office.
  • Include specific times of day. Include pictures of the corresponding times on a clock if needed.
  • Schedules can range from simple to complex depending on the needs of the students.
  • Alert autistic children to any changes in the daily routine. When a substitute teacher is going to teach for me, I talk to my students with special needs about it the day before, if possible. They find it more acceptable than when they don’t know ahead of time that I’m going to be gone.

Have you ever had a student walk into your classroom and seem agitated but he couldn’t tell you why? What’s your experience? Any comments on this post? Write them in the comment box and Let’s Talk about Autism!

Karen Robbins

Supporting YOU through your journey with autism


Early Signs of Autism

When Josie was 5 months old, her mom, Elizabeth, wondered why she still didn’t respond when she called her name.

Elizabeth had been excited to bring her newborn daughter, Josie, home from the hospital. She’d dreamt about holding and cuddling her baby during feeding times and eagerly accepted the privileges and responsibilities of becoming a young mother. She enjoyed the daily bath times and didn’t mind changing her diapers. She loved being a mom and looked forward to the day when Josie would call her “Mommy.”


Does my child have autism?

But Elizabeth sensed something was wrong. “Should I get her hearing checked,” she wondered?  After waiting another month she took Josie to the doctor. The doctor assured Elizabeth that Josie’s hearing was fine and she was a normal, healthy baby. Relieved she took Josie back home and forgot about her fears.  Josie continued to grow and develop and even starting speaking in short sentences when she was almost two. Elizabeth felt thrilled when Josie learned to call her “Mommy.”

But when Josie was two and a half, Elizabeth noticed a change in her behavior. She preferred to play by herself with just a few of her favorite toys. Her favorite toy was a spinning top and she could watch it for hours. Elizabeth sometimes felt hurt that Josie wanted to play by herself all of the time, but soon found that she was pregnant with her second child and was secretly glad to save her energy and just watch Josie play.

When Josie turned four, Elizabeth put her in preschool three days a week. After only a month, the teacher called Elizabeth for a conference. She was concerned that Josie was falling behind the other children in the class. Elizabeth immediately went to the local elementary school for help and they gave her my name and phone number.

Elizabeth brought Josie to my office the next week, and I quickly noticed several things.

  1. Josie never made eye contact with her mom or me.
  2. While her mother was present, Josie only repeated words that her mother told her to say.
  3. Josie checked out the unfamiliar room before she began flapping her arms and spinning herself around.
  4. Elizabeth didn’t seem to notice anything unusual about Josie’s behavior.

After Elizabeth left, I got Clifford, the big red dog stuffed animal and used it to try to make eye contact with Josie. She loved Clifford and we made a few short moments of eye contact. After reading a Clifford book together, Josie immediately started a memorized monologue of a recent movie she’d seen, voice inflection and all.

There were important indicators of Josie’s autism that Elizabeth, a first-time mother did not recognize.

If you’re a parent, grandparent or pre-school teacher, here are some questions to consider as you observe a child in your family or classroom.

  • Does the child know how to imitate?
  • Does the child tend to ignore other people?
  • Does the child know how to pretend play?
  • Is the child repetitive in her play, playing with only a few things?
  • Does the child share her toys without prompting?
  • Does the child comment on what others are doing?
  • Does the child maintain normal eye contact with others?

If the answer is no to three or more of these questions, take the child to a pediatrician or speech pathologist for evaluation. The younger a child receives help, the better off he/she will be.

Next blog: Autism in elementary aged children.


Supporting YOU on your journey with autism


Special Needs Educator

Karen Robbins

Are you a teacher, parent, family member or friend

of a child with autism?

 I’m so glad you’ve found my website because I want to support you any way I can.  I am a semi-retired elementary and special needs teacher with a strong passion for children with autism. My experience includes teaching in five states in public and private schools, as well as working one-on-one for 15 years. Over the last five years I’ve been privileged to teach and encourage parents, teachers and medical professionals in several countries about autism and special needs children.  Many have asked for further help and encouragement in coping with their situations.  My response is to publish this new website and blog. will equip you with practical information and insights about autism, and I hope you will join in the discussions as well. To begin, I will be covering topics such as:

  • What are the signs and symptoms of autism?
  • Understanding and responding to the child with autism.
  • How can a teacher help autistic children thrive?
  • Common questions from parents and teachers

    Kikuyu KENYA

    Kikuyu KENYA

Each of these topics will be developed through various articles illustrated with real life stories. My prayer is that you will find practical help, hope and encouragement for the challenges you face.


Karen Robbins

Supporting YOU on your journey with autism