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Fun with hands: Autism skills using Play dough

Every one knows play dough is fun. But is it therapeutic? Can playdough be used to teach skills to children with Autism? The answer is “Yes”!  This colored squishy substance, does not just provide your child with opportunities to explore their creativity, but is also an important medium by which  you  can address various needs of your child.

Exploring uses of Play dough

You’ve played with it, created with it, now let’s see how play dough can be used as a therapy tool:·

Sensory therapy:

  • Kneading, rolling, punching, squeezing, flattening and raking the dough all provide proprioceptive sensation to your child. Thicker the dough, more the input your child receives.
  • Adding scents and colors to the dough, provides olfactory and visual sensation.
  • If your child finds the texture of the dough aversive, initially encourage play with a small amount of the dough.  Place little amount on your child’s hands and let them pull the dough off. Also encourage your  child to roll the dough between their fingers, on the table or using both palms together. As your child becomes more comfortable, increase the amount of dough used in play. Make the dough coarser by adding rice/ sand to the mixture. Apply talcum powder/ oil on child’s hands to prevent the dough from sticking.
  • For a child who is on gluten free diet and has a tendency to taste all that he plays with gluten free play dough will be an ideal solution.

For stronger hands:

Play dough helps to improve fine motor functions like, strength, dexterity and coordination of hands.

  • Along with proprioceptive input, kneading, rolling, puching, squeezing, flattening and raking the dough helps in improving the strength of hand muscles.
  • Pinching the dough and rolling between the fingers also help in improving dexterous functions of the child’s hands.
  • Use of tools like scissors, play knives, presses, cutters, rolling pins help to improve bilateral coordination ( i.e: involving coordinated use of both hands in the tasks) of the hands.


Playdough can be used to facilitate learning in your child. You can use playdough to teach letters, numbers, shapes, colors and many more to your child.  Here are some ways on how!

Talk to your child: A commentary will help your  child in learning many concepts. Talking about what you are doing will help your child to learn many concept.Similarly ask your child various questions regarding the dough. Repeated asking and similar play will help the child to learn the colors/shapes.

Learning by doing: Some children learn better while doing/ or by using their hands to create. Teach them on how to make shapes, letters/ numbers. Use the play dough as a slate and draw on it to learn the same. This gives a better impression regarding the concept you were trying to teach to your child. Try telling your child to  close their eyes and draw a letter/ number/ shape on the play dough (using his finger) . Now ask your child to guess what was drawn by them and see if your child has learnt the concept.

Mix and match: You can make learning fun by mixing and matching. For eg: you would like to teach your child colors and shapes, so make a shape using the decided color. The key to this play would be to talk continuously to your child. Similarly counting and shapes, make a certain number of shapes and ask your child to count them. You can make a certain letter and ask your child to pick a picture chart of an image which starts with that letter e.g “A for Apple”.

Social skills:

Play using play dough will help your child to interact better with others. Your child may learn

Asking for needs:  e.g a particular color of the dough/ a tool they need

Taking turns: when there are more people playing the child may have to wait his turn to use a particular tool

Sharing: by allowing others to play with their toys, or involving in a group game helps your child to learn how to share with others.

Play dough games:

Now that you know the benefits of play dough here are some games you can try out with your child

Theme based play: Own a restaurant, be a teacher a carpenter etc and create using play dough.

Making the longest snake: Roll out the play dough and see who can make the longest snake in the room

Play dough Puppets: Make puppets using the play dough and put on your own show. It can be enacting nursery rhymes, a scene from your household or a small story which your regularly tell your child.

Home made Play dough:

Now that you know how valuable play dough can be to therapy, be prepared. Always have a stash of play dough ready for use at all times. So visit this site to get a handy home made recipe for making play dough.  The author has given ideas on adding on scents and colors to the dough which also gives a lot of sensory feedback to your child.  A recipe for gluten free play dough is found here.

So what are you waiting for? Go open that can of play dough and explore with your child!


** Picture credit: 30somethingmom.wordpress.com

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