Imaginative Play and Storytelling

Okay, here’s something I keep coming to throughout all of my research for my thesis and now my studying for the SPED class in autism: autistics don’t pretend (or imaginative) play.  It has ranged from they struggle with it all the way to we have a complete lack of it.  But here’s where I become very confused, they say they can participate and enjoy storytelling, but they don’t imaginative play.

Now, here is where I would demand that they define what they mean by imaginative play.  Often-times (and I learned this as an assessment tool), the definition of imaginative play is put a kid in front of a bunch of toys (action figures, dolls, dinosaurs, you name it) and a few boring objects (i.e. a block of wood, a cardboard box, etc.).  If the kid does not use the boring objects, then they lack the ability to pretend play.

I’m sorry, but right there, I call BS.  I am pretty sure that if a kid has action figures, dolls, dinosaurs, and race cars, they are not going to play with a block of wood.  Now, the researchers in these studies and assessors in the educational field (this is one of the tests to determine if a child qualifies for special education services under autism spectrum disorders) say that they can play with the actual toys, but they have to use the boring objects as something that they are not.

So, if a kid puts a bunch of blocks in a row and has his action figure walk over them while saying they are blocks, he lacks the ability to pretend play.  Because pretend play is defined as the ability to use the blocks as something they are not.

Now, why is pretend play that important?  One name, Alan M. Leslie.  You may remember me bitching about him in the past and how he says language and reality are on completely different fields and don’t influence each other in the slightest (which is incredibly arhetorical, but I digress).  Leslie also says that pretend play is the very first mental state that a child begins to understand within themselves (because they apparently don’t understand thinking or emotions when they are babies)

Now, on to the part where I don’t understand the argument: what is the difference between imaginative/pretend play and storytelling?  In storytelling, you are telling a story about something that is not there (just like you would be doing if you decided or pretended that a block of wood was something completely different), so how is that any different from imaginative/pretend play?

I just don’t understand why imaginative/pretend play and storytelling are not seen as the same thing.  Not only that, but why are we assessing pretend play at all and determining who does and does not pretend play?  Every child should be allowed to pretend play as they see fit and not be expected to pretend play in a particular and expected way.


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