Developing symbolic play for children with autism using a joint-play intervention

Helen Margaret Marwick, Karena Jarvie, Lorna Johnston, Hilary Cowie, Nicola Quinn, Rachael Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


To examine developments in symbolic play using standardized measures following a joint-play intervention for children with autism
Naturalistic play interventions reflect the theoretical position that play difficulties in children with autism follow from reduced motivation to engage in shared playful activities with co-construction of pretence. Standardised measures of developments are needed to provide independent, systematic evidence of intervention effectiveness, and of the amenability of symbolic representational play abilities in autism to environmental support.
Seven children with autism, aged 5 -8 years, participated in weekly intervention sessions using the ‘playboxes’ joint play intervention (Marwick, 2006) over a period of 3 months. Professionals working with the children incorporated ‘playboxes’ into everyday support. Pre- and post-intervention abilities were assessed using the Symbolic Play Test (SPT) (Lowe and Costello, 1989) and the Test of Pretend Play (ToPP) (Lewis and Boucher, 1998).
Ethical considerations: Playboxes is an enjoyable playful intervention, accessible to professionals and families, designed to support social interaction. Informed consent was gained.
Pre- and post-intervention scores on the SPT were near the uppermost score, and showed little movement. Every child gained increased age-equivalent ToPP scores (from +8 to +40 months) with three showing increases greater than +30 months.
This evidence demonstrates the effectiveness of the Playboxes intervention in supporting the development of symbolic play abilities in children with autism, and that these abilities can be supported. Such abilities aid educational inclusion and social well-being, and inclusion of this intervention in practice could be valuable for children with autism.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013
EventEuropean Early Childhood Educational Research Association Conference (EECERA) - Tallin, Estonia
Duration: 28 Aug 2013 → …


ConferenceEuropean Early Childhood Educational Research Association Conference (EECERA)
Period28/08/13 → …


  • joint-play intervention
  • joint-play
  • children with autism
  • symbolic play


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