The JASPER Method: Play Therapy for Children with Autism

According to a 5-year long study that just concluded this past January, research shows that there is a new method of treatment that has been proven to show improvement in language and social skills in children with autism that speak little to no words.

Developed by distinguished UCLA professor Dr. Connie Kasari, this method is called JASPER (standing for Joint Attention, Symbolic Play, Engagement & Regulation), and it involves interacting with children with autism during playtime in a way that encourages them to use more words and has a deeper connection with the person playing with them in order to promote social development.

woman and girl using tablet computer
Photo by Michael Morse on

JASPER is based on these core principles:

  • Joint Attention: The coordination of attention between objects and people for the purpose of sharing; when you and your child are focusing on, interacting with, and sharing enjoyment with the same object or stimulus
    • Example: When you point to an object and say “Look!” and your child looks in the direction of that object.
  • Symbolic Play: The modeling of appropriate, flexible, and diverse types of play and play routines; when you and your child are using a toy or object in multiple, creative ways
    • Example: Using a cardboard box as a car, spaceship, etc.
  • Engagement: The expression of interest and undivided attention. Increases in engagement are critical because they lead to more opportunities for social communication and learning.
  • Regulation: Referring to the regulation of emotion and behavior, the regulation allows parents to use strategies to address a child’s lack of engagement or an attachment to self-stimulatory behaviors that inhibit social growth.

All of these principles are imperative for social development, and facilitating your child’s growth in these areas will allow them to reach significant milestones in their ability to communicate with others.

Implementation of the JASPER treatment method entails:

  • Modeling and teaching joint attention skills directly
  • Increasing the ability to coordinate attention
  • Increasing diversity and flexibility in play skills
  • Encouraging and increasing the use of language during playtime by matching tone and frequency of words used
  • Speaking less to encourage the child to initiate and be spontaneous with words
  • Increase functional play and reach higher levels of symbolic play
  • Improving children’s state of engagement
  • Increasing engagement to increase opportunities for learning and social communication
  • Increasing emotional and behavioral regulation
  • Decreasing self-stimulatory behaviors
  • Structuring the play environment in a way that is not too stimulating but is also conducive to the child developing their own ideas
girl in red short sleeve dress and flower headband holding pen and writing on paper on table
Photo by Pixabay on

Young children with autism often struggle to reach key developmental landmarks, and their social delays can significantly impact their life beyond childhood. With the JASPER method, children with autism are better and more easily able to grasp certain elements of social interaction that they would otherwise spend years struggling with. In a nutshell, JASPER allows developing children with ASD to drastically expand their capability for both playtime and social growth in general.

To learn more about JASPER and how to implement some of its strategies within your own home, check out the links below.

Written by: Jillian Trevarthen

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