Integrated Play Groups Help Autistic Children Develop Social Skills


“Integrated Play Groups which focus on collaborative rather than adult-directed play, are successful in teaching children with autism the skills needed to engage in symbolic play and to interact with their typically developing peers,” according to a press release about research published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Led by Pamela Wolfberg of San Francisco State University, 48 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders participated in a three-month program where they were guided in strategies for collaborative playing using the specifically developed Integrated Play Group model.

According to the press release, Wolfberg said that children with autism, tend to have “a very restrictive play repertoire, in which they may have unusual interests and repeat the same activity, most often by themselves. The goal of Integrated Play Groups is to move children from engaging in lower levels of play, such as simply banging something, to engaging in more symbolic play that involves reciprocal interaction with peers.” In one example, children collaborated to build cardboard blocks, create an earthquake, and then re-construct together.

After learning the play group skills, “the children’s ability to interact with kids they did not know and to engage in pretend play had risen dramatically,” stated the press release.

“This flips around the idea that kids with autism are incapable of socializing or incapable of pretending,” Wolfberg said in the press release. “They have the same innate drive to participate with peers and to engage in playful experiences, but what has been happening is we have not been able to tap into their potential.”

In their study conclusions, the researchers wrote that, “The findings revealed significant gains in symbolic and social play that generalized to unsupported play with unfamiliar peers. Consistent with prior studies, the outcomes provide robust and compelling evidence that further validate the efficacy of the [Integrated Play Group] model.”

(Abstract) Integrated Play Groups: Promoting Symbolic Play and Social Engagement with Typical Peers in Children with ASD Across Settings (Wolfberg, Pamela et al. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. September 2014. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-014-2245-0)

‘Integrated Play Groups’ help children with autism (San Francisco State University Press Release on ScienceDaily, October 27, 2014)


  1. It think the ways to address autism, or at least some autistic behaviours (as it is not a disorder anymore than most DSM labels) is to find ways to engage kids and get them interested in social interactions but in the same time make sure they are accepted and understood. If engaging with peers provides that it’s basically a social reward which reinforces the behavioural change.

    Report comment