We hope to give a few ideas of how to make this abstract concept more concrete for our kiddos! Again, we do not always think about teaching these skills, but many children on the spectrum may be attending to details in the environment that may distract them from watching others to learn how to imitate them, which really is how typically developing children usually begin pretending. We sometimes see kids on the spectrum begin acting out scenes from television or movies, which is a great start and we want to help them expand these skills and to be more flexible.
Firstly, think about what may be motivating or interesting to your child, student, or client and use those toys to structure an activity. I will include an example of a play activity I just structured using an adorable little vet kit that I found on one of those online sale websites (they get me every time)! Most people have those beginning doctor's kits too, right? You could use one of those with the child's favorite character-- (an Elmo stuffed animal, for example) so he/she could learn to play "doctor" with Elmo.
Next take photos of different pretend actions-- so here I took photos of me taking care of this puppy at the "vet"-- looking in his ears, checking his temperature, giving him a bone at the end of the "vet visit" etc.
Then, print the photos out-- I used 4 to a page so they were around regular photo size. I happened to purchase one of those overpriced laminating machines (Abby and I are working on a few other things to be debuted on the blog soon), but generally more sturdy paper, like card stock works great or you can even glue the printed photos to more sturdy folders-- whatever works, it does not need to be fancy or difficult!
Cut the photos out and hole punch the corner of each photo.
Then make a "flip book" by using a key or book ring so the child can flip through the pages to see what pretend action to perform. This is a concrete way to teach these pretend play skills and to increase flexibility, we encourage you to continuously change the order of the photos so the person does not memorize what to do and become rigid and insistent on only doing it that way... sound familiar anyone?
You can use this strategy with so many toys, just always remember to make it visual when teaching these extremely abstract concepts-- this will help make it more meaningful for the person with autism who is first learning these skills, and of course you can and should still engage in play with them and have fun during this process!