Ready, Set, Go!

Physical Organization

Teaching Play Skills (Part 3)

Learning Goals

  • Increasing social play and leisure skills for learners with functional play skills
  • Using physical organization to provide meaning and context to play

Learning Connection

Individuals with Autism naturally focus on details in their physical environment in order to know exactly where to be and what to do in a particular social situation. Therefore, it is first important to establish organization within the physical environment to provide learners with an understanding of the expectations and opportunities within the setting

Dr Kathleen Quill –
Do-Watch-Listen-Say: Social and Communication Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder (2017)


  • the learner’s schedule
  • the learner’s communication device (if they use one)
  • painter’s tape
  • two trays
  • two puzzles (consider incorporating the learner’s special interests)
  • sticky notes
  • marker

Note: physical organization supports can be used with any level of symbolic and social play.


  • Create physical boundaries by choosing an area that is segmented from the rest of the space.
  • Ensure that the space is free of visual and auditory distractions.
  • Provide visual structure by making multipurpose areas look different for play time (ex. remove meal time tablecloth).
  • Divide the table into two parts with painter’s tape.
  • Provide each learner with a tray.
  • Provide puzzles that the learner has already been taught to do functionally and independently.
  • Place the pieces of each person’s puzzle to the left of the puzzle on the tray.
  • Designate a space for finished puzzles to go, such as a shelf.
  • Label the puzzle shelf with a sticky note.
  • Write/draw “tidy up” on a sticky note.
  • Write/draw “finished” on a sticky note.

As the learner develops social comfort, consider moving the other person (and his or her puzzle) closer. As the learner becomes more successful in understanding expectations, consider slowly removing some of the physical structure (ex. removing tape on the table). As the learner becomes more independent, reduce adult facilitation.

Verbal Prompts


  1. First, if needed, support the learner in checking his or her schedule.
  2. Next, if needed, support the learner in going to the physically structured “puzzle area” as indicated on his or her schedule.
  3. Next, provide a choice between two or more puzzles for both the learner and the peer. Place each person’s puzzle on their tray. Make sure to place the pieces on the left hand side of the puzzle.
  4. Next, allow the learner and the peer to complete the puzzle.
  5. Next, comment on what the learner and the peer are doing. Model using the learner’s communication device if she or he uses one. For example, comment on the picture in the puzzle, if the puzzle is easy or hard, or if the piece is a centre or corner piece.
  1. Next, try to encourage the learner to look at the peer and the peer’s puzzle. Praise any joint attention or imitation of the peer.
  2. Next, when the puzzle is finished, support the learner in tidying up using a “tidy up” visual or his or her communication device. Encourage the learner and peer to place the completed puzzles on the labelled puzzle shelf.
  3. Next, indicate that the activity is finished by showing the learner a “finished” visual or by using his or her communication device.
  4. Next, if needed, support the learner in checking his or her schedule to see what is next.