Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders

pp 3092-3094

Test of Playfulness (ToP)

  • Anne SnowAffiliated withChild Study Center, Autism Program, Yale University Email author 




The Test of Playfulness (ToP) is an assessment designed for measuring the play of individuals between the ages of 6 months and 18 years (Bundy, 2010). It is composed of 29 items that are scored following an observation of the individual’s free play in both indoor and outdoor settings. It has been recommended that the ToP is most reliable when completed after play sessions that are 15 minutes in length. The ToP is completed by a trained observer. Items are scored on a 4-point Likert scale with respect to three dimensions: Extent (0 = rarely or never, 3 = almost always), Intensity (0 = not, 3 = highly), and Skillfulness (0 = unskilled, 3 = highly skilled).

Scoring the ToP utilizes a test-specific Keyform, which depicts the relative difficulty of each item plotted against the means and standard deviations for the items. Recording the item scores on this form produces a total score ranging from −7 to 7.

Historical Background

The initial version of the ToP was a 60-item assessment completed by a rater who scored from videotaped segments of free play. It has undergone three revisions, leading to the current version (Version 4). The first and most significant revision took place in 1993. Items were eliminated from the previous version. Those that were eliminated were items in which the statistical analyses indicated did not contribute toward the construct of playfulness or were difficult to observe reliably. New items were also added in order to increase the ability of the measure to detect subtle changes as a result of intervention. In addition, the scoring procedure was revised to include the Intensity and Skillfulness scoring scales. The second revision took place in 1997, which consisted of subtle revisions to the item set, with a subsequent minor revision clarifying scoring criteria. The most recent revision to ToP was completed in 2000. This revision came about in response to the growing number of examiners who were using the ToP to assess children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The goal of this revision was to make the ToP more sensitive to changes in playfulness as a result of intervention, as well as to add a greater number of easier items to adequately capture the play skills of children at lower levels of functioning. Seven new items were added to address this goal.

Psychometric Data

Throughout the development of the ToP, data have been collected from nearly 2,000 children. Rasch analysis was used to validate the measure. This type of analysis measures the extent to which the difficulty of items corresponds to the ability of the individual. In other words, this analysis indicates whether more capable individuals (in this case, more playful) have higher scores on the ToP. Data from 96% of the items, 93% of the participants, and 95% of the raters have met this assumption, thus indicating that the ToP items reflect a unidimensional construct of playfulness.

The test-retest reliability of the ToP has been examined in one published study (O’Brien & Shirley, 2001). Overall, it appears that the stability of the test scores is high. However, some variability in scores is expected as a function of the environment in which the play observations are conducted. In situations with several potential play activities or partners, the reliability of the test scores have been found to be lower (Skard & Bundy, 2008). Researchers have suggested that if a child is to be evaluated on the ToP twice (e.g., to assess change in playfulness following an intervention), the child should be alone or with a playmate in both assessments in order to increase consistency between the play settings.

Clinical Uses

The ToP was developed as a tool to be used by occupational therapists as a formal assessment of the playfulness of their clients. The authors of the ToP indicate that it should be used by clinicians who desire to assess and promote play and playfulness in their young clients. Although it was originally intended to be used by occupational therapists, members of other professions are encouraged to use the ToP in assessments that would benefit from an evaluation of playfulness. As play skills are often impaired in children with ASD, the ToP may be a useful addition to the assessment of this population (Baranek, Parham, & Bodfish, 2005).

See Also


Play Intervention

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013
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