The Meta-Play Method
Appropriate for ages 18 months - 4 years
The Meta-Play Method offers a systematic approach to fostering the development of imagination and play skills in young children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), intellectual disabilities, developmental delays, and social and emotional disabilities. By creating meaningful and purposeful play for young learners with disabilities, the Meta-Play Method provides educators, practitioners, and families with a comprehensive play-based curriculum that sequentially teaches skills that foster the development of imaginative thinking, pretend play, and age-appropriate social skills.
The activities and materials embedded throughout the curriculum promote:
  • Imagination from object existence to more abstract human imagining
  • Engagement that is out of the learners’ control or unpredictability
  • Fostering movement on the object to human continuum
  • Fosters movement on the part to whole continuum
Four Pillars of Meta-Play
Program Activities and Lessons

Where to Start: Meta-Play activities do not need to be completed sequentially, however lessons within each activity should be completed in order. Each lesson plan builds on previous learning objectives and scaffold instruction, making each lesson within the activity more difficult. Pick activities that are most appropriate for your learners developmental ability and are likely to motivate your learner.

Lesson Delivery: Lessons can be delivered one-on-one, in small groups, or using peers. When needed and appropriate, begin lessons one-on-one and gradually increase the number of learners to promote incidental learning and age-appropriate reciprocal interactions. Each lesson is intended to last 15-20 minutes, however based on engagement and motivation can be expanded.

Scheduling: It is recommended that lessons are implemented daily. By scheduling the Meta-Play daily, learners will have frequent repetition of instruction and the likelihood of skill development increases substantially. Learners should be familiar with and motivated to engage with the Meta-Play lessons and materials.

Establishing a Supportive Environment: It is important to create and foster a supportive learning environment. When possible, eliminate distractions, provide barriers, and provide ample visual supports. Provide access to age-appropriate and motivating materials. If needed, provide visual schedules, first-then boards, and token economies to increase engagement and motivation.

Enhancing Generalization: Activities and lessons within the curriculum should be implemented with various educators, therapists, familiar adults, peers, and parents/guardians. Additionally, substitute Meta-Play materials for other items in the natural setting (i.e., toys, common objects) to promote skill generalization
across stimuli.

Activity 1. • Pairing Reality with Representation
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
Let’s Do This Together!
Attend to the behavior of others.
The Same, But Different!
Engage with real objects in the same manner as someone using toys.
Let’s Pretend!
Engage in pretend play in a representative manner.
Use Your Imagination!
Engage in socialized pretend play.
Activity 2. • Fostering Imagined Existence
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
Where Did It Go?
Begin to understand people and objects out of sight exist.
Find Me?
Demonstrate understanding that someone out of sight exists.
Partial Hide and Seek!
Seek out and find someone out of sight.
Hide and Seek!
Seek out and find a person who is hiding.
Activity 3. • Practicing Unpredictable and Other-Controlled Play
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
Where’s It Going Next?
Begin to tolerate engaging in unpredictable activities.
Let’s Move Here!
Tolerate engaging with unpredictable activities.
Let’s Walk Together!
Engage in unpredictable activities with others.
Let’s Fly!
Engage in pretend play activity that is unpredictable.
Activity 4. • Restricting to Animal/People Play
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
Let’s Play with Almost/People Toys!
Ability to shift focus from objects to people.
Let’s Play with People Toys!
Engage with toys that have human-like features.
People Puppet Play!
Engage with human-like dolls or figurines.
People only Play!
Engage with human-like toys with purposeful pretend play.
Activity 5. • Reinforced Putting People Together
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
Let’s Play with Puzzles!
Put non-human objects or puzzles back together.
Putting It Together!
Put human-like objects or puzzles together.
You and Me Puzzles!
Put a picture puzzle together and understand that picture represents him/herself.
People only Play!
Put a picture puzzle together of the learner from a field of other picture puzzle distractors.
Activity 6. • Incidental Entertainment Training
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
Watch movies to gain interest in characters.
Movies That Are A Little More Human!
Watch movies that have characters with human-like features.
Movies With Human and Almost Human Characters!
Watches movies with both human and human-like characteristics.
Act This Out!
Act out movie events with a familiar adult.
Activity 7. • Parallel Puppet Play
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
Introducing the Non-Puppet!
Engage with toys while object puppet is present.
Part-Person Puppet Play!
Engage with toys while the eyes puppet is present.
Puppets Are People Too!
Engage with toys with a face puppet and demonstrate joint attention.
Let’s Follow the Eyes!
Actively respond to simple requests made by the face puppet and demonstrate joint attention.
Activity 8. • What’s in the Box?
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
Let’s Look in the Box!
Reach in box to find a preferred object.
Find What You Want!
Reach in a box and find a preferred object with distractors.
Pick the Doll!
Reach in a box and find the human-like toy or doll from a field of 3.
Find the Parts to a Person!
Reach in a box and grab a toy representing a body part to build a human-like toy or puzzle.
Activity 9. • Acting on Other’s Intent
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
What Do I Need?
Retrieve an object for a familiar adult with prompting.
What Do You Need?
Retrieve an object for a familiar adult.
Puppets Can Help Too!
Retrieve an object for a puppet.
I Can Help The Puppet!
Retrieve an object for a familiar adult using a puppet.
Activity 10. • Object-to-Person Video Modeling
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
Let’s Watch a Video!
Watch a video that is filmed from the learners perspective.
What Are We looking At?
Watch a video in which adult calls learners name filmed from the learners perspective.
Let’s Look at Faces!
Watch a video focused on others facial features from the learner’s perspective.
What Else Can We Watch?
Watch a video that includes adult and puppet filmed from the learner’s perspective.
Activity 11. • Searching Without Seeing
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
Where Did You Go?
Tolerate not being able to see and access a preferred object.
Find the Toy!
Tolerate not being able to see while seeking out and finding a preferred object.
Find the Person!
Tolerate not being able to see, seeking out and finding a preferred object out of a field of two.
The Puppet Searches!
Engage with a familiar adult using a puppet while playing a searching game.
Activity 12. • Imitation of Child’s Actions and Emotions
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
I Can Copy You!
Draw attention to a familiar adult who is imitating their behavior.
Let's Clap!
Draw attention to familiar adult and imitate simple actions.
Let’s Build a Tower!
Draw attention to familiar adult during a reciprocal play activity.
Untie the Knot!
Engage in a challenging task and imitate adult’s facial expression.
Activity 13. • Most Human Card Game
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
Pick the Object!
Demonstrate the ability to identify a picture that is most like a real object.
Here Comes Something Different!
Chose the most human-like picture with a distractor.
Most Like a Person!
Chose the most human-like picture from the same card series.
Find the Person!
Identify the most human-like picture from the same card series in a field of 4.
Activity 14. • Pairing Reality with Representation Card Game
Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3 Lesson 4
Match the Object!
Select the most symbolic version of a real object.
Which is Like the Object?
Select the most symbolic version of a real object in a field of three.
What Picture Could Be The Object?
Select the most symbolic version of a real object.
Find the Symbol!
Match the symbolic representation to the real object and engage in pretend play.
View Brochure
Sample Lesson Plan

Goal & Objectives
Identifies the ultimate Meta-Play activity goal and clear, measurable lesson objectives.

Lesson Delivery
Walks through the delivery of each lesson by priming background knowledge and guiding through key instructional components.
Identifies the materials needed for each lesson and describes how to prepare for each lesson.

Key Instructional Components of Each Lesson Plan:
  1. Introduce: Gain the learners attention and introduce the target activity
  2. Provide a Model: Model the desired response or behavior
  3. Cue: Cue your student to engage in the desired behavior
  4. Prompting: Systematically assist the learner by using a prompt hierarchy
  5. Error Correction: Implement an error correction procedure, if necessary
  6. Provide Reinforcement: Explicitly reinforce the learners’ behavior and engagement
Consistent Delivery
Explains how to cue the learner, prompt desired behaviors, and correct errors.

Provide Reinforcement
Reminds you to provide positive reinforcement and praise to enhance skill development.

Generalization Tips
Promotes incidental learning and skill generalization in various environments.
Peer-to-Peer Learning
Provides ideas on promoting inclusion and peer-to-peer learning opportunities.

Meta-Play Teacher's Resource Kit
Due to availability, materials are subject to change.

Wooden Dowel • Mr. Potato Head TM • Matching Real Cups • Tea Set • Boy/Girl Puppet • Toy with Human Face • Magnetic - People Puzzle • Human-like Puppet • Hungry Pelican • Matching Phones • Human-like Doll-Figurines • Animal Puppet • Boy/Girl Puzzle • Off-centered Ball • Canvas White Object Puppet • Pad and Pen • Small Cloth • Lacing String • Clear Container • Semi-Clear Container • Solid Container • Plastic Storage Bin • Paper Figure Cutouts
Progress Monitoring
Data Collection and Assessment Procedures
Defining the Behavior
Each lesson plan has a measurable learning objective that systematically advances learners through the lesson plans and Meta-Play activities at an appropriate pace based on each learners’ progress. Each learning goal is systematic written to identify the condition, behavior, and criteria for example. Using Meta-Plays observable and measurable learning goals, measure the learners behavior to establish a baseline, or present level of performance, and monitor the learners progress. Based on the characteristics of the learner, goals and objectives can be adapted as needed.

Example of Lesson Objective
Using an abstract object, the learner will engage in pretend play behavior in a
representative manner with assistance for three consecutive trials or with 80% accuracy (4 out of 5 trials) for two consecutive sessions.
  • Condition: Using an abstract object.
  • Behavior: The learner will engage in pretend play behavior in a representative manner with assistance.
  • Criteria: For three consecutive trials or with 80% accuracy (4 out of 5 trials) for two consecutive sessions.

Environmental Factors
  • Setting: By analyzing setting-specific data, educators can make data-based decisions based on a learners progress in specific instructional environments. It is important for learners to generalize skill development across setting.
  • Materials: While Meta-Play provides materials specific to each lesson, it is encouraged that a variety of materials are incorporated in the lessons and activities. Generalization across materials and manipulative is encouraged and required for true mastery.
  • Facilitator: Educators, paraprofessionals, or lesson facilitators should initial each session, identifying who worked with the learner during that instructional time.

Monitor Progress
Collect student-specific data on learning objectives and goals consistently, monitoring the learners progress regularly. For learners requiring additional support, provide more systematic modeling and prompting. For learners making consistent progress and growth, fade prompts to increase independence.

Mastery Criteria
To ensure skill mastery, a learner is required to demonstrate mastery across two instructional sessions with 80% accuracy or for three consecutive trials. It is crucial to ensure a student has consistently and independently mastered each learning objective before moving on to the next lesson.
Moving on to more advanced lessons without scaffolded skill mastery could result in confusion, frustration and a delay in skill mastery.

View Sample Data Sheet

Research Base
Woodard, C. & Van Reet, J. (2010). Object identification and imagination: An alternative to the meta-representational explanation of autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(2), 213-226.Woodard, C.(2012).

The Meta-Play manual: Theory-based interventions for young children with autism. TN: Lightning Source. (Manual created for grant-funded research exploring novel interventions for toddlers with autism.)
About the Author
Dr. Cooper Woodard is a licensed clinical psychologist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who lives and works in Providence, RI. He worked in Charlotte, NC for 11 years serving adults and children with autism and other developmental disabilities before completing his PhD in 2002. He moved to Providence, RI where he became a Clinical Director and then the Vice President of Clinical Services and Training at the Groden Center. He also created the first hospital diversion program for persons with autism and developmental disabilities, the RITE program. The Groden Network is an internationally-known continuum of services that has been providing innovative and high-quality supports for children and adults with autism since 1976. Dr. Woodard is the creator of the Dynamic Behavior Theory of Autism (DBTA) and the Meta-play Method, which is derived from this theory. He is the author of a number of books on this topic, as well as book chapters on the treatment of self-injury, optimism and other positive traits, and the construct of courage in daily living. He was a visiting professor at Wheaton College for a number of years, and is currently a part-time professor at the University of Rhode Island. Dr. Woodard is a reviewer for the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (JADD) and other journals, and has published a wide range of articles not only in the areas DBTA and Meta-play, but also repetitive behavior treatments, sensory sensitivity, the construct of courage, a medication trial for Dextromethorphan, and measuring positive traits in persons with autism and developmental disability.
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