Teaching Play to Children with Autism: Practical Interventions Using Identiplay


Nicky Phillips & Liz Beavan

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    About the Authors

    Nicky Phillips is an Educational Psychologist working in Portsmouth. In her role as an EP, she takes a lead for autism and coordinates a project which supports pre-schoolers with ASDs and their families. She regularly runs training in autism for parents and professionals. Prior to qualifying as an EP in 2002, she worked as a primary school teacher and special needs coordinator. Nicky has had articles published in Educational Psychology in Practice, Good Autism Practice and Special Children magazine.

    Liz Beavan retired from her post as Headteacher of a Hampshire Special School in August 2010. She has supported the delivery of training in autism to parents and professionals in Hampshire and beyond. Liz has set up and run a support group for professionals working with children/young people with ASDs and supports a local charity offering a range of activities to families with children and young people with ASDs. She is currently working with a charity in India whose ultimate aim is to open a school for children with ASDs in the South of India.


    The authors would like to thank:

    Jannik Beyer and Lone Gammeltoft for giving permission to develop their ideas.

    Dr Caroline Smith, Specialist Consultant Educational Psychologist and the staff, pupils and parents (past and present) of Riverside Community Special School, in particular Jane Dabbs, Wendy Weaver, Margaret Gyngell, Kim Smith, Dawn Standing and Claire Gardiner.

    Thanks to Michelle and her family for their ongoing support, patience and generous use of their time.

    Special thanks to Kate Morgan for her great play ideas and scripts, and her enthusiasm for Identiplay!

    Thank you also to: Caroline Smith for permission to reprint excerpts of VIP Play profile originally published in Venturing into Play – A Play Skills Profile for Children with Autism Spectrum Difficulties © Caroline Smith, published by Interactive Connections Ltd 2003.


    This second edition on intervening in the play of children with autism is cause for celebration. It reflects the authors’ practical experience of working directly with children, their parents and linked professionals and the new developments in the area of ‘Identiplay’.

    This book continues to set out a specific approach for intervening in the play of children with autism. Identiplay is, at its core, an adult-led teaching strategy focusing on:

    • enabling children with autism to use toys in ways common to other children.
    • enabling children to hear and join in with play narratives.
    • enabling children with autism to learn a play skill, generalise it and add to it creatively.

    Identiplay recognises that, for all children, there are times when adults need to lead the learning and times when learning is best supported through child-led activities. Identiplay acknowledges the importance of that balance.

    This new book provides readers with an overview of the nature and significance of Identiplay. Keeping to its familiar format it offers even more case studies and play scripts enabling readers to link the ideas presented directly to their children. In addition, it stresses the benefits of the central learning relationship of child, parents and professionals.

    Additions to this volume outline the increased scope of Identiplay both in terms of breadth of focus and flexibility of location. Children play indoors and out. It is important to apply Identiplay in a range of learning environments. Furthermore, the approach lends itself to the teaching of leisure skills and self-help skills to young people with autism. Set within an environment which draws on a range of good practise in autism, Identiplay is proving to be a helpful and accessible approach, chosen keenly by parents and professionals.

    It is important that early approaches to play rest on careful observation of existing play skills. Parents and professionals commonly seek advice and guidance in the initial and ongoing assessment of play. This new edition clearly sets out a number of helpful assessment options so that the interventions of adults and the play of children can be noted and effective evaluations made.

    The first edition provided a practical starting point for involving children with autism in play. This second edition builds on that practical focus and continues to provide parents and professionals with the answer to the key question ‘How can I make a start on play?’ However, its broader scope seeks to answer a number of additional questions too, namely ‘How can we work effectively together?’ and ‘How can we be sure we are making a difference?’

    Identiplay provides a launch pad to some of the best work I have seen in the area of play and children with autism, its research base is building and I know practitioners in the field will find this second edition a very useful resource to pick up and apply.

    • Dr Caroline Smith
    • Specialist Consultant Educational Psychologist
    • Author of Writing and Developing Social Stories
    • International trainer in the field of autism and childhood anxiety.

    What is in the Pack and How to Use it

    There is a CD-ROM enclosed in this book. Some of the content of the book is also available for printing out for training or practitioner purposes. These resources include:

    • play scripts.
    • video clips with text commentaries.
    • a PowerPoint file (with presenter notes) for training purposes.

    The video and PowerPoint materials are suitable for projection onto a screen.

  • Bibliography

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    Compact English Dictionary Online (2011) Retrieved from http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/play
    Cumine, J., Leach, J. and Stevenson, G. (2001) Autism in the Early Years, A practical guide. London: Fulton.
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