Including Children with Autism in Social and Imaginary Play with Typical Peers: Integrated Play Groups Model

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American Journal of Play

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Peer-play experiences are a vital part of children’s socialization, development, and culture. Children with autism face distinct challenges in social and imaginary play, which place them at high risk for being excluded by peers. Without explicit support, they are likely to remain isolated from peers and the consistent interactive play that encourages developmental growth. This article focuses on the theory and use of Integrated Play Groups (IPGs), which offer a comprehensive, research-based intervention that helps children on the autism spectrum engage in play with typical peers in regular social settings. The article examines the nature of play and the developmental and sociocultural problems it presents for children with autism. The authors describe IPGs, focusing on their conceptual design and the interventional approach to them called guided participation. They highlight innovative uses of IPGs for older populations and discuss Integrated Teen Social Groups. They summarize research and development efforts and discuss the implications of IPGs for the future.