Background/aim: The importance of play in the social development of children is undisputed. Even though children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) experience serious social problems, there is limited research on their play. By integrating literature on ADHD with literature on play, we can postulate how play is influenced by the characteristics of ADHD. These postulations enabled us to propose a theoretical model (proposed model) to depict the interactive process between the characteristics of ADHD and factors that promote play. This paper presents the revised model and principles for intervention based on the results of a study investigating the play of children with ADHD (reported elsewhere). Methods: We tested the proposed model in a study comparing two groups of children (n = 350) between the ages of 5 and 11 years. One group consisted of children diagnosed with ADHD (n = 112) paired with playmates (n = 112) who were typically developing; the control group consisted of typically developing children paired with typically developing playmates (n = 126). The Test of Playfulness was administered, and the model was revised in line with the findings. Results and conclusions: The findings suggest difficulties in the social play and lack of interpersonal empathy in the play of children with ADHD. We draw on the revised model to propose preliminary principles for play-based interventions for children with ADHD. The principles emphasise the importance of capturing the motivation of children with ADHD, counteracting the effects of lack of interpersonal empathy, and considerations for including playmates in the intervention process.