About Integrated Play Groups

Challenges in Peer Socialization and Play
Many children with social problems, particularly children on the autism spectrum, face serious challenges learning how to play and socialize with peers. Autism is a complex condition that impedes children’s spontaneous development of reciprocal social interaction, communication, play and imagination. Despite opportunities for play, these children do not naturally acquire capacities to pretend and coordinate social activities with other children. Problems conveying and interpreting social-communication cues make it difficult to join peers in play. Many children spend inordinate amounts of time alone pursuing repetitive and unimaginative activities. Without appropriate intervention, they are at high risk for being excluded from their peer culture and leading impoverished play lives.

Importance of Peer Play
Research shows that children learn and develop in a multitude of ways through shared experiences in play. Play’s significance is far reaching as a social and cultural context through which children acquire symbolic capacities, interpersonal skills and social knowledge. Moreover, peers perform a distinct role in fostering children’s socialization and development that cannot be duplicated by adults. They learn to communicate effectively, solve problems, negotiate and compromise, understand the feelings and perspectives of others and work out emotional conflicts. Particularly within a social-pretend framework, children practice and assimilate these skills while exercising their imaginative potential.

Including Children in the Culture of Play with Peers
The IPG model was created by Pamela Wolfberg, Ph.D. out of deep concern for the many children who are missing out on peer play experiences as a vital part of childhood. The IPG model is grounded in current theory, research and practice pertinent to addressing core challenges in autism that impact on both social and representational aspects of play. While influenced by the work of Vygotsky, this mullti-dimensional model encompasses developmental and ecological features that are framed within sociocultural theory. Embedded in the model are practical tools and techniques for observing, interpreting, and building on children’s play interests and social communicative abilities, and for designing environments conducive to social and imaginative play.
In practical terms, an IPG brings together children with autism (novice players) in mutually engaging play experiences with more capable peer play partners (expert players) while guided by a qualified adult facilitator (play guide). Each IPG is individualized as a part of a child’s comprehensive educational and therapy program. Play sessions are tailored to the unique interests, developmental capacities and sociocultural experiences of novice and expert players. Guided by sensitive assessments, the IPG intervention (guided participation) provides a system of support for maximizing each child’s developmental potential and intrinsic motivation to play, socialize and form meaningful relationships with other children. Equal emphasis is placed on guiding neurotypicals to be more accepting, responsive and inclusive of children who may present differing ways of playing, communicating and relating with others.

CARE offers the highly acclaimed IPG Program throughout the summer months. Sessions are offered at no cost to the family (based on availability of trainers and peer mentors).