Appropriate Play Double Standard

“Does your child play with toys appropriately?”

Well, he’s not sticking it up his butt, so, yes?

I don’t think I ever heard of “appropriate play” before having my kids assessed for autism. There’s something about autism that turns childhood creativity into A Problem in the mind of the professionals. When Builder Boy was little he pretended a plastic T was an airplane. He wasn’t using it as it’s intended function. If he was neurotypical, he’d be praised for creativity and pattern recognition. But in hindsight, knowing he’s autistic, playing with the toy inappropriately is just another missed Red Flag. (Sarcasm.)

There has been a growing trend, from what I’ve seen, for more “open ended” toys. Marketing specifically to encourage creativity in kids to buy toys that can be used in multiple ways. But an autistic kid does this naturally with any toy, and it’s considered A Problem behavior that must be rectified. What the hell! Why this double standard?

I was scrolling through Pinterest the other day and I came across a picture. The one on the right on the picture at top of this post. Explicit instructions on How To Play along with the toys the go along with it, for autistic and language delayed kids. Now, I understand that structured play in a speech therapy environment is easier for the SLP than having to improvise and follow along with the child’s interests. I also understand that this is not the only play the child will ever engage in. But it still really galled me and seemed representative of the whole “appropriate play” idea. What happened to play is play, and however the kid is playing is fine? Why are we pathologizing this? Why should it matter if a child never uses a toy as it was originally intended? If the point of play isn’t so the kid is having fun, rather than training them in neurotypical behavior, then why are we calling it play?

I’ve seen parents in facebook groups asking about this. Their kid isn’t playing with a toy the “right” way, how do they correct this? Really? Why is this a problem? How is this hurting anyone? Like lining up toys, there is nothing inherently bad about playing with toys differently. But people with a rigid view of what is “normal” and therefore acceptable behavior are making autistic kids’ play into Problems. Don’t be that parent. If the kid was neurotypical, no one would even blink at it. So don’t do it to your autistic kid. Don’t perpetuate the double standard.


Picture credits for Open Ended Toys and How To Play



2 thoughts on “Appropriate Play Double Standard

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  1. Perhaps the notion that everything a disabled or otherwise different kid does has to have some therapeutic value comes into this. I’ve seen this mentioned elsewhere: a neurotypical girl has riding lessons because she’s horse mad and really into it and has lots of fun. If an autistic girl has riding lessons for the same reasons, it’s somehow framed as ‘equine therapy’. And so with any kind of play. Neurotypical children play for fun. Autistic children can only play if it’s somehow teaching them something at the same time or, again, can be framed as some sort of therapy. They can never do anything just for the fun of it. Double standard indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

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