The Social Loop and Increasing Interaction

Developmental play therapy for autism seeks to help a child develop from the ground up, and the first skill to develop is understanding and operating within the social loop . This training module explains the importance of being able to execute both roles involved in completing a social loop and how mastering that can help grow your child’s interactive attention span.

Course Category:

Play Therapy 101 -- Section 1

Course Length:


Course Description:

Social loops are the building blocks of interaction, the links in a bigger interactive chain.

  • One person opens a social loop by initiating a communicative action, another person closes that loop with a responding action. For example, I wave to you and you wave back, I ask you how you are and you answer. Understanding this basic concept is crucial in helping your child develop their social communication. As children we learn to master both roles in the social loop. We learn to initiate communication, first to have our needs met and later to be social. We also learn to respond to others communications. It’s important that your child be able to fulfill both roles.
  • Children with autism and sensory integration issues usually get far more practice in the responding role than the initiating role. That is why it is so important to use a play style that creates many opportunities for your child to initiate communication.


  • Observe social loops in public and in your interactions. Observe how your child participates in the social loop process. Are they stronger at initiating or responding?
  • Be aware of how often your child is put in the role of “responder”.  FOR PARENTS: Next time you’re at a family gathering with your child, observe and even count the number of requests, questions and demands that get placed on your child. Anything that seeks a physical or verbal response from your child is a request. Count multiples of the same question asked in a row. Often times when a child isn’t answering or needing a long time to answer,  adults tend to repeat the request many times.
  • Video yourself playing with your child for 15 minutes, watch the video later and count how many requests you make.
  • Challenge yourself to go 30 minutes without making a request or asking a question of your child while playing with them (it may be harder than you think.)


  • Why do you make requests of your child? Really think about this, we often make a lot of requests and ask a lot of questions of our children without really thinking about why. There can be many reasons, but some are better than others!
  • Why is it important to create opportunity for our children to initiate social communication? The power in creating opportunity for your child is that they get the chance to start forming new neural circuitry. We form neural pathways by performing new actions repeatedly, initiating requires it’s own neural circuit. The only way for your child to develop a neural circuit for initiating social communication is to have the opportunity without being asked, requested or prompted in anyway. The nature of social communication is that we learn to think and express ourselves, we do this like everything else, we have to practice.
  • What types of initiations does your child make with you or others? Are they usually requests for food or access to computer? If so, these are communications to have needs and wants met vs. seeking you out to have a social interaction. It’s important that your child have practice initiating for social purpose. These can be requests for games or activities you have played before or simply comments about something they are observing or thinking about.

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