Responsive Play Interactions


Responsiveness is an EBIP_communication_responsive play_2approach to  conversation and play that is meant to help promote positive interactions between adults and children. Adults join in play and follow the child’s lead, while promoting turn-taking in conversation and play. Additionally, adults provide verbal models of target language, but do not prompt expressive language from the child. When being responsive during play, adults interpret child behaviors as an intent to communicate and respond to these behaviors as a way to reinforce child initiations and communication attempts. There are several strategies to use during responsive play. A few are listed below.

Imitating language: Imitation involves repeating what a child says. For example, if the child picks up a toy train and says, “train”, the adult could point at the train and say, “train.”

Expanding language: Expanding involves repeating what the child says and adding an extra component. For example, if the child says “train”, the adult could say “red train.” Or the adult can pick up another train and push it forward and say “The train is fast!”

Imitating play: Imitation in play involves doing exactly what the child does. For example, if the child puts a piece of play food on a plate, the adult could pick up a similar piece of play food to put on a plate.

Expanding play: Expansion in play involves doing what the child does and adding an extra behavior. For example, if the child holds a baby, the adult could hold a baby and feed the baby with a bottle. Similarly, if the child stacks blocks and says “I made a house!” an adult could make a similar structure and add an extra block and say “I put a chimney on my house!”

Following a child’s lead: During play, allow the child to take lead and follow what they do. If they change toys, change toys with them instead of trying to re-engage them with the previous toy. For example, if the child is building a house and then picks up a matchbox car, the adult might choose to get a similar vehicle rather than saying “Don’t you want to play with your house?”

Where can I find additional information regarding responsive play interactions?

  • Barton, E. E. (2015). Teaching generalized pretend play and related behaviors to young children with disabilities. Exceptional Children.
  • Barton, E. E., & Wolery, M. (2010). Training teachers to promote pretend play in young children with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 77(1), 85-106.
  • Brown-Gorton, R., & Wolery, M. EBIP_communication_environmental arrangement_8(1988). Teaching mothers to imitate their handicapped children: Effects on maternal mands. Journal of Special Education, 22, 97-107.
  • Frey, J. R., & Kaiser, A. P. (2011). The use of play expansions to increase the diversity and complexity of object play in young children with disabilities. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 31, 99-111.
  • Hockenberger, E. H., Goldstein, H., & Sirianni Haas, L. (1999). Effects of
    commenting during joint book reading by mothers with low SES. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 19(1), 15-27.
  • Ingersoll, B., & Schreibman, L. (2006). Teaching reciprocal imitation skills to young children with autism using a naturalistic behavioral approach: Effects on language, pretend play, and joint attention. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(4), 487-505.
  • Ingersoll, B. (2010). Brief report: pilot randomized controlled trial of reciprocal imitation training for teaching elicited and spontaneous imitation to children with autism. The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40, 1154-1160.
  • Kong, N. Y., & Carta, J. J. (2013). Responsive interaction interventions for children with or at risk for developmental delays: A research synthesis. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 33(1), 4-17.
  • McCathren, R. B. (2000). Teacher-implemented EBIP_communication_resposive playprelinguistic communication
    intervention. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 15(1), 21-29.
  • Venker, C. E., McDuffie, A., Ellis Weismer, S., & Abbeduto, L. (2012). Increasing verbal responsiveness in parents of children with autism: A pilot study. Autism, 16(6), 568-585.
  • Yoder, P. J., & Warren, S. F. (2002). Effects of prelinguistic milieu teaching and parent responsivity education on dyads involving children with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 45(6), 1158-1174.

To cite this page (APA 6th edition):

  • Patel, N.M., Ledford, J.R., & Maupin, T.N. (2016). Responsive play interactions. In Evidence-based instructional practices for young children with autism and other disabilities. Retrieved from