The Power of Play in Autism Early Intervention: ESDM Techniques for Engaging and Purposeful Playtime


On June 2, 2024

Playtime is often regarded as one of the cornerstones of childhood, offering countless opportunities for learning, discovery, and joy. For children on the autism spectrum, play is not only a source of entertainment or leisure but also serves as a powerful tool for growth and development. Autistic children can benefit significantly from purposeful and engaging play experiences, particularly within the framework of Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) early intervention services. By incorporating ESDM techniques into playtime, parents and potential therapists can help autistic children under the age of five overcome challenges in communication, social skills, and other developmental areas.

In this blog, we will delve into the dynamics of play within the context of early intervention for autism. We will discuss how play can contribute to the growth and development of autistic children and explore practical examples and guidance on utilising ESDM techniques to enhance playtime for young autistic children. Our ultimate goal is to empower parents and potential therapists with valuable insights and strategies that enrich play experiences, fostering the development and well-being of autistic children both at home and in therapeutic settings.

Our target audience encompasses parents with autistic babies or children under five years old and potential therapists providing guidance and support to families on this journey. By offering detailed and intent-driven content, we aim to inspire our readers to enhance and expand play experiences for autistic children, utilising evidence-based ESDM techniques to maximise the developmental benefits of playtime. By harnessing play’s innate power, we can support young autistic children in overcoming challenges to communication, social interaction, and other aspects of their development to realise their full potential and thrive in all areas of life.

1. The Significance of Play in Autism Early Intervention

The power of the play lies in its ability to facilitate growth and development across several critical areas for autistic children:

– Cognitive Skills: Play helps autistic children develop problem-solving abilities, creativity, and cognitive flexibility, essential for navigating various life challenges.

– Communication Skills: Through interactions during play, autistic children can practice verbal and non-verbal communication skills, promoting greater understanding and self-expression.

– Social Skills: Play provides safe and enjoyable social experiences that allow autistic children to build friendships, learn social cues, and develop empathy and shared understanding.

– Emotional Regulation: Engaging in play can offer autistic children a means to express and regulate their emotions, fostering self-awareness and emotional resilience in the long run.

2. Incorporating ESDM Techniques into Playtime

By implementing ESDM techniques into playtime, parents and potential therapists can maximise play’s benefits for autistic children:

– Use Natural Reinforcements: Encourage and reward desired behaviours during play by providing reinforcements connected to the activity itself, such as praise, shared enjoyment, or increased access to preferred toys or games.

– Foster Joint Attention: Develop joint-attention skills by prompting and modelling the act of focusing on the same toy or activity as your child, facilitating shared experiences and cooperative play.

– Encourage Imitation: Teach new skills and play routines by demonstrating desired actions and providing ample opportunities for your child to imitate your behaviour, supporting learning and mastery through repetition.

– Facilitate Turn-Taking: Introduce turn-taking exchanges into play to foster social reciprocity, as well as teach crucial skills such as waiting, negotiation, and cooperation.

3. Creating Play Spaces and Selecting Toys for Autistic Children

A thoughtfully designed play space and the careful selection of toys can greatly support the development and learning of autistic children:

– Adapt Play Spaces: Create a distraction-free play area, incorporating visual supports, tactile materials, and calming elements to accommodate your child’s sensory needs and preferences.

– Choose Purposeful Toys: Select toys that promote various facets of development, such as cognitive, fine-motor, and language skills, providing a well-rounded array of play opportunities.

– Encourage Sensory Exploration: Offer diverse sensory experiences through toys and materials that stimulate different senses, allowing your child to self-regulate and focus on what appeals to them.

4. Supporting Playtime in Everyday Settings

Utilising everyday situations and spaces can create countless opportunities for enriching play experiences:

– Make Routine Activities Playful: Add an element of play to routine activities such as mealtime, bath time, or outings, transforming mundane tasks into fun learning opportunities.

– Encourage Interaction with Peers: Arrange structured playdates with peers, promoting social interaction and introducing diverse play opportunities for your child to explore.

– Engage in Community Activities: Participate in community events and programs that embrace inclusivity, affording autistic children the opportunity to engage in social play alongside their neurotypical peers.


Integrating ESDM techniques into playtime can empower autistic children to learn, grow, and overcome developmental challenges in an enjoyable and engaging manner. By understanding the significance of play in early intervention and utilising purposeful play experiences, parents and potential therapists can promote holistic growth for autistic children under the age of 5.

At Amazing Kids, we recognise the power of play and are dedicated to providing individualised, evidence-based ESDM early intervention services to autistic children in Melbourne. Get in touch with us today to discover how our early intervention services can support your child’s development and enrich their playtime experiences, equipping them with the skills they need to thrive in life.

You May Also Like…

How We Address Sensory Challenges in Autistic Children Using ESDM

How We Address Sensory Challenges in Autistic Children Using ESDM

Sensory challenges are a prominent aspect of autism that can deeply affect the experiences and development of young children. As specialists in Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) interventions based in Melbourne, we understand the importance of addressing these...