Schedule your Free Consultation

Blog

Learning Through Play During Autism Therapy 

aba learning opportunities

Written by: Lisa Buxton

During your child’s Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy sessions at Trumpet Behavioral Health, we focus on increasing learning opportunities as much as possible. Highlighting different learning styles while teaching play skills to children with autism helps them progress and grow both in and out of therapy. When we teach children with autism in different ways, like through play, they make progress, exhibit higher levels of independence, and gain greater self-confidence. After a high-quality teaching session, children with autism will use the skills learned in therapy with other peers and adults. 

Read more: Helping Kids With Autism Improve Social Skills

It’s no secret that increasing learning opportunities during therapy helps children with autism make great overall progress, but you might be wondering how we encourage these learning opportunities in our sessions. Because every child with autism responds to therapy differently, we use a variety of strategies to encourage opportunities for learning. 

Here are a few ways that Trumpet Behavioral Health works with you to help children with autism learn more during therapy sessions. 

Structured and Free Play During ABA Therapy

One of the most helpful tools for children with autism is highlighting play during therapy sessions. Play helps encourage learning opportunities by allowing for fun, flexibility, and socialization. Sometimes, play skills need to be taught to children with autism, but the opportunities that play presents make it a valuable and necessary part of therapy sessions for individuals with autism. Play provides the opportunity to work on communication, choice-making, attention span, turn-taking, and building cognitive ability. 


When thinking about play-based interventions for autism as a therapy tool, there are two types of play ABA-certified therapists use structured play and free play. Structured play is designed to focus on activities that generate a specific response, through Discrete Trial Training (DTT). This method of structured play breaks down a larger goal into smaller, more easily digestible parts which build to teach them a larger behavior. Free play is play that encourages curiosity and self-guided exploration in a natural, non-structured environment. Free play can be a great way for therapists to explore social interactions, encourage generalization of skills across different settings, and increase physical activity. Trumpet’s therapists also use free play to help us learn what each child likes and dislikes, so that we can use their interests to teach them new skills. 

How Play Equipment Helps Encourage Learning>

As a part of emphasizing play in our sessions, Trumpet also offers children with autism the chance to interact with specialized play equipment, such as sensory toys and gym equipment. Children with autism who engage with play equipment through the guidance of a trained therapist develop critical thinking and hone a wide range of sensory and motor skills that they otherwise might not. Interacting with toys through play can foster communication and increased social skills.

Electronics & Screen Time: A Useful Tool, in Moderation

Electronics can be a very useful tool in developing learning opportunities during therapy. When used in moderation, television, iPads, and iPhones can help teach new skills and keep motivation strong. These types of electronics can also be used to build social skills through role-playing and practicing social situations.  

What to Ask Your Provider About Learning Opportunities in Autism Therapy

If you’re not sure whether your provider uses play to increase learning opportunities in therapy, observe your child’s therapy sessions and ask specific questions about goals and structure. Your child should be having fun and learning quickly during sessions. There are different kinds of play therapy for different age groups, so asking your provider about specific programming is also a good idea. 

Read more: 5 Ways To Get Involved In Your Child’s Autism Treatment

You can also ask your provider about how to identify ABA play therapy ideas for children with autism that you can use at home. We recommend that parents become involved in their child’s therapy by learning how to apply ABA strategies outside of sessions. Staying familiar with these strategies can also help expose your child to a broader learning program and can even fill skill deficits more quickly. 

Here at Trumpet, we feel strongly about including play in therapy programs, and believe that all ABA providers should include fun learning in their sessions. Play, whether structured or free, has been shown to increase engagement, improve cognitive ability, expand social opportunities, develop better communication skills, and help aid with transitions. Play can also be a great way to teach alternatives to maladaptive behavior and can help you and your child’s therapist discover how best to reinforce positive behavior.

We provide many autism learning resources and can show you how Trumpet therapists stand apart from the crowd. Book an appointment at any of our locations today!