PLAY Project as a treatment for Autism….What Does the Research Say?

When you have concerns about your child, you want the best possible help for them, especially in the early years when intervention is so key. Here’s some information about the research behind PLAY Project as well as a comparison chart comparing PLAY Project techniques/goals to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) techniques/goals.

Is there evidence that the PLAY Project works?

Yes, there is a base of research and evidence for PLAY Project autism intervention. Results from  a randomized controlled trial of PLAY Project was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of  Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics in 2014. This large-scale study focused on the impact of PLAY autism intervention: a parent-implemented (a.k.a. parent-mediated) play and relationship focused program. The research study showed the significant improvements below. 

Significant improvements in: 

• caregiver/parent and child interaction 

• social interaction of children with autism 

• social-emotional development of children with autism 

• autism-related diagnostic category/symptoms including behavioral compliance 

Secondary outcomes: 

• Improved parent stress and depression; and 

• PLAY Project consultants were true to the model (showed fidelity). 

Additional Evidence for PLAY Project Autism Intervention:

The PLAY Project early intervention program reduces autism symptomology and improves social impairment, a core deficit of children with autism. 

The principles, methods, and techniques of the PLAY Project were developed on evidence-based practices in autism early intervention. For example, PLAY Project addresses the following: 

• Use of a parent‐mediated model for ASD (Wong C, Odom S, Hume K, Cox, et al, 2013) 

• Meets the National Research Centers standards for intensive early intervention (2001) 

How does Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) differ from the PLAY Project? 

There are similarities and differences between ABA and the PLAY Project. The most important considerations are that they both are evidenced-based, and both meet the requirements for an intensive autism intervention according to the National Research Council (2001). PLAY and ABA are complementary because they address different and equally important aspects of what the child with ASD needs. Many children can benefit from receiving both types of intensive intervention and PLAY Project is a great way to get started with autism intervention, particularly for children birth- 5 years of age. PLAY Project results in improved social interaction, a skill necessary for all others including educational readiness.

Comparison of Developmental and Behavioral Approaches

Area Developmental & Behavioral – PLAY Project Behavioral – ABA 
Parent Role Parents as the expert;  helping the child as a PLAY partner and being coached  by professionals Parents often not involved in direct ABA services
Emphasis Social interaction Educational readiness
Initiation Child Initiated Program Initiated
PhilosophyFollow child’s readiness Meet Program Goals
StructureStrategic and FlexibleMore Highly Prescribed 
Intensity 15-20 hours/week during family routines, 1 on 1 focus on social interaction20-40 hours per week, 1 on  1, focus on gaining skills
Interaction Playful, social interaction Task lists and checklists
EnvironmentMore NaturalisticMore Controlled 
Generalization to Other Settings Early Generalization Common Later Generalization Typical 
OutcomeRelationship, Social Skills Language and FeelingsCompetence in Varied Skills especially cognitive & academic

Adapted from Richard Solomon, MD.

What are the best resources for understanding the PLAY Project approach?

The Welcome to The PLAY Project Introductory online course is a great introduction to the PLAY Project and can be purchased directly here. Additional resources are available at


An 8-week program for children age 3-6 with sensory processing differences

Children with sensory processing differences have difficulty with regulation, which sometimes makes it difficult for them to interact with the world around them. Our Sensory Explorers group targets regulation in order to build engagement! This group is led by pediatric occupational therapists Mackenzie Baldock (2:30 group) OR Meghan Day (8:30 group) and developmental therapist/PLAY Project Consultant Brenna Thompson, all of whom specialize in using developmentally appropriate strategies to support children so they can learn new skills. Group meets once/week for 60 minutes.

Wondering if this class is appropriate for your child? Some characteristics of kids who benefit: easily frustrated with play, repetitive play, difficulty sitting/keeping still to engage in play, refuses to allow others to engage in play, unable to be messy, overly busy, quickly overwhelmed in a busy environment, picky eater, difficulty tolerating grooming/dressing/diapering routines, struggles with transitions/following a group plan/routine. 

Goals of the group include:

  • Child participating in a variety of sensory play activities
  • Engaging socially with others in the group
  • Providing a non threatening environment where children can experience new sensations with the support of a pediatric Occupational Therapist and PLAY Project consultant
  • Providing personalized resources to caregivers, so they better understand the sensory system and learn strategies to assist their child with regulation outside of group
  • Opportunity to meet with other local families

GROUP MEETS for 8 weeks:  Caregivers must stay on the premises to support their child and learn helpful strategies. Children will separate from caregivers for the session; caregivers can socialize in the lobby (we will also provide a few toys for siblings to play). Caregiver education is a key component of this program. 


OPTIONAL Summary Report available at close of session. This 2 page report will summarize your child’s participation in the class and provide helpful sensory strategies to increase their participation in activities. This report could be given to teachers in classrooms & daycares or utilized to help educate other caregivers about ways to help your child participate. This option includes a 30 minute Zoom meeting with Brenna and MacKenzie/Brenna and Meghan to review the report and discuss your child’s progress in Sensory Explorers. COST: $100 due at sign up