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A Parents View on Piaget's Play Theory and his Autistic Child

Updated on January 31, 2011

Learn to Play, Play to Learn

Here's my friend's personal experience on using play therapy to  improve his autistic son's learning ability while having fun too. We feel this might be useful information and will like to share with you all.  

Growing Up with Autism

Over the years, I had gone into searching solutions and better understanding of Autism.

In following the course of nature, according to our current society, my child will definitely be left out if there are no early interventions done.

I had gone into understanding some of the great research done by Jean Piaget, a swiss psychologist as well as Vygotsky works, a Soviet psychologist. Both men had spent their lifetime understanding the minds of children. The followings are some of the assessments that I had made for myself to understand more my son.


Applying Piaget's Play Therapy

In Piaget concept of cognitive structure, the development is facilitated by providing activities to engage learning and adaptation.

We have to understand that Kai Keet is a child diagnosed with Autism and hence needed to plan the stage more carefully. An autistic child, interpretation on the intelligence will be much complex. Moreover, Kai Keet was found to have speech delay. Hence in this case, Piaget’s view of universal stages needs to be overlapping.

In the development stages, we had selected both sensorimotor stage as well as preoperations stage. Kai Keet, although when at aged 7, he may still be in sensorimotor stage. However, we may also classify him within the infant stage of preoperational development.

Activity selected for the child will be “Sandcastle Building”. In the play, two pails will be used to scoop water from the sea. However, one pail will be full of holes. In this play, we emphasized self initiated discovery. At the end of the day, the child may not built sand castle but we hope to provide a stimulating environment whereby the child able to use it sensory skill, tactile to feel the sand and water, auditory and visual on the raining pattern created by the leaking pail. In preoperational development stage, we hope that Kai Keet will understand that liquid forms in any shapes and will flow out of the container should there be any leakage. Hence, he should not be using the pail with holes to scoop water from the sea while building sand castle.

In Piaget Theory, one could see that it creates rooms for creativity and imagination. Instead of using the pail for scooping water just for sand castle building, Kai Keet used the pail with holes acting as shower head and sprinkled water on himself. This had shown a different level in the intelligence. The child had found another meaning of playing the game. He is telling the parent that the pail can be used as a shower head. Should the play continues, if the child able to transfer water from one good pail to another leaking pail, watering the sand to provide uniformity mixture of wet sand, we should be able to comfortably elevate the development stage.

In Vygotsky, when social interaction comes into play, it clearly shown what can the child achieve independently vs. a child achievement with skilled guidance. A normal child can immediately be elevated to another level of the Piaget stage. However, it’s important to know what the child needs and what ideas should be presented. A case of an autistic disorder child, a combination of both theories maybe required. The implementation will need to be sequenced with Piaget first followed by Vygotsky‘s work to achieve greatest improvement in learning.


In knowing that early intervention does help an autistic child, I believed it’s only by holding on and spending times with the child will eventually improve the conditions.

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