Purpose: The play in young children with autism has been historically seen as deficits-based, with a focus on the limitations of autistic object play. More recently, there has been a shift towards a strengths-based view of autistic object play, where their play preferences and skills are viewed as vehicles for meaningful engagement and as having potential for learning. The aims of this narrative review are two-fold: to identify themes in the existing literature regarding the object play of young children with autism; and, to summarize the existing literature specifically examining object play in young autistic children from a strengths-based point of view. A neurotypical framework will be utilized to categorize autistic play, under sensorimotor, functional, and pretend play. Methods: The databases CINAHL Complete, APA PsychInfo, Pubmed, and ERIC (ProQuest) were systematically searched from January 2000 to June 2023 with key search terms and search strategies. Peer-reviewed articles with an age range of children with autism six months to nine years old were included. Results: Sensorimotor play is predominant in young children with autism, in both amount of play and type of play. Functional play has more recently been shown to be present in young autistic children, although with sensorimotor properties. There is a clear lack of pretend play in autistic children. In the final screening, 11 studies were included that used strengths-based practice principles in viewing children with autism’s object play. Conclusions: A sensorimotor object play bias is proposed. There is a need for experimental research that uses a strengths-based perspective in examining autistic object play. Future studies should focus on exploring the sensorimotor object play bias through a strengths-based framework.

Author Bio(s)

Sharon Eva, OT, is a PhD student at Nova Southeastern University in the Department of Occupational Therapy. She currently works as a pediatric and mental health occupational therapist and an adjunct professor at Baylor University.


The author would like to thank Nova Southeastern University's PhD program in Occupational Therapy for their support of scholarly pursuits.