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23. Imaginative Play

Imaginative or pretend play is when individuals, often children, enact scenarios and roles using their imagination. This form of play is crucial for cognitive, social, and emotional development. It fosters creativity, helps kids understand the world around them, and enables them to process their feelings.

Why It’s Challenging

For some, delving into the imaginative realm might not come easily. Neurodivergent individuals, particularly those on the autism spectrum, might find it challenging to engage in or understand pretend scenarios. This doesn’t mean they lack creativity or understanding; rather, their brain processes information differently.

Supporting Ourselves and Others

Every individual’s play preference is unique. It’s essential to validate and support those who might not naturally incline towards imaginative play, while also providing them opportunities and tools to engage if they wish.

Practical Steps to Enhance Imaginative Play

  • Structured Play: Some individuals might find it easier to start with a structure or a set theme. Board games, puzzles, or kits can act as a stepping stone to more freeform imaginative scenarios. Board games can also be a tool to understand organisation and planning.
  • Visual Aids: Using storybooks with vivid illustrations can be a bridge to the world of imagination. It can also assist in processing visual information more effectively.
  • Join In: Be a part of their play. When adults or peers join in, they can model imaginative behaviours, making the play richer and more interactive.
  • Digital Play: There are numerous apps and games that encourage imaginative scenarios, helping bridge the gap for those who might find traditional pretend play challenging.
  • Use Real-life Situations: Enacting real-life scenarios can be a starting point. This can then be gradually built upon to introduce more fantastical elements, aligning with literal interpretation tendencies some might have.


  • Dollhouses or Action Figures: These can be tools where individuals can enact day-to-day scenarios, gradually infusing them with imaginative elements.
  • Story Cubes: Rolling dice with pictures to create a story can be both structured and imaginative.
  • Interactive Digital Stories: Digital platforms that allow users to choose their story outcomes can be both engaging and instructive in understanding predicting feelings and consequences.

Daily Change Summary

Imaginative play, while beneficial, isn’t the only way to process or understand the world. Recognising individual strengths, preferences, and providing supportive tools can ensure holistic development for all.

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