Symbolic Play

From Pheno Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Symbolic Play

Basic Characteristics

  • Description

Symbolic Play (or Imaginary play) is characterized the action of pretending something is there when it is not, or giving an object or person abilities that it does not have. Symbolic play is often one of the three following types of action: substitution (using one object in place of another), imaginary play (giving an object attributes that it does not have, or pretending that an object is there when it is not), or agent play (where the child pretends that a doll or other object performs the actions)1. Pretend play requires inhibition of reality, generation of new ideas, and the ability to shift attention from one interpretation of toys to another.8 There is evidence that a child's ability to do pretend play is closely linked to the child's level of receptive language and could predict later language.3,4

In one longitudinal study looking at symbolic play, only Joint Attention measures (not executive function measures, imitation measures, or general cognitive measures) predicted spontaneous pretend play at the second time point. Joint Attention was not a predictor of sensorimotor play development, which implies that there is a very strong and unique relationship between Joint Attention and the development of spontaneous play.8 Some assert that Joint Attention skills are vital for children to develop typical representational systems so that they could reason about cognitive states or emotions of others, which is a skill that would be used in pretend play. Some researchers believe that Joint Attention is not related to Symbolic Play-rather, deficits in these two areas are a result of an underlying deficit, such as in Executive functioning.9

  • Symbolic Play and ASD

Children with autism tend to engage in less spontaneously symbolic play than typically developing children. The deficit in symbolic play is unique to children with autism as it seems that other children with other developmental disabilities still engage in Symbolic Play2

Tests to Assess Repetitive Behaviors


A number of studies challenge the idea that children with ASD display a deficit in symbolic play. Using many different paradigms, findings from these studies suggest that children with autism recognize, remember, select and produce symbolically transformed scenes and props when an adult is present to direct them.6,7 It is possible that children with ASD do understand the concept of symbolic play, and that the part they have trouble with is coming up with counter-factual play ideas. This then is related to a deficit in executive functions.8


Interventions which have targeted Symbolic Play have been successful in increasing Joint Attention and Play scores.5

Back to Treatments
Home Page


See Citations_Symbolic_Play

Related Information

  • Indicators (dependent variables, conditions, or contrasts; measurement variables used for analysis) associated with this construct (vote or nominate by editing this page):
  • Closely related pages (vote or nominate related pages by editing this page):

External Resources

  • Links out:
    • -ucla cognitive atlas- (coming soon!)
  • Database links

Other Details