Why Play Therapy?
Play Therapy is a versatile practice that can be exercised in both professional and school settings, but also at home. The toys act as the child’s words, while the play is the child’s language. Through the process, therapists are able to help the child improve communication skills, expression of feelings, sensory processing, and also limit stimming behavior.
To imagine how a child with Autism might feel, think about walking into your job not knowing your position, responsibilities, the company’s rules, etc. You have no idea what you’re supposed to do or how to act but are expected to work a full 8 hour day. How do you think you’ll feel at the end of your shift? Probably exhausted, stressed, frustrated, and maybe a little bit angry.
According to North Shore Pediatric Therapy, “play is the single most important mechanism children utilize to learn about their universe.” Keep in mind that each child will be different and will require different attention/interaction. Here are some tips to remember during play therapy.
6 Tips for Play Therapy for Children with Autism
1. Begin where they are
It is essential to perform a full assessment on the child before beginning play therapy. You should have a clear outlook of what the child needs help with the most so you can effectively interact and use the right techniques. Baby steps are most constructive for long-term healing.
2. Build trust in the beginning
If you were taken to a stranger’s house/office and were expected to share your feelings with them, would you right away? Maybe a little bit, but it could take some time before you truly open up and let that person into your world. If you have a new client, it could be helpful to explain the purpose of therapy and what’s going to happen. Also, validating the feelings that the child does express can help them feel more relaxed.
3. Quiet is Okay
Especially in the early stages of therapy, a child may be very quiet during sessions. There doesn’t always have to be a conversation during play therapy. Sometimes there is silence and that is perfectly normal. It might actually be helpful to the child’s healing process since the unconscious, subconscious, and conscious experiences are working together to grow. Talking can sometimes interrupt this process, but it can also be beneficial depending on the child.
4. Allow Free Play
If you are administering a group session, allow the child to play with peers that are his/her age without you. Of course keep an eye out and intervene if needed, but successful play with others could be a monumental step for a child with Autism. Not all children will be ready for free play, but it is important to recognize if they are.
5. Involve Parents
Say you have a child in therapy… would you want to learn how to better interact with them and be aware of their progress? Probably. Having parents take part in some play sessions or attend therapy sessions on their own could be crucial in the child’s healing. Since the play sessions only last so long, parents can learn simple techniques to engage the child at home and also build a better relationship.
There could also be other methods to help the child at home. For example, iPad games are now being used to help Autistic children with communication skills. Teaching parents about the games and helping them obtain an iPad for a reasonable price is something a therapist might do.
6. Prevent feelings of abandonment
If there is a break in treatment for any reason, you should speak with the parents/guardians to make other arrangements for the child to prevent the feeling of desertion. If the child builds a relationship with you and has regular sessions, then all of a sudden stops seeing you, what will they think? They may not be able to understand what is happening and it may lead to future trust issues or fear of abandonment. This will certainly be different for every child, but even just explaining what’s going on could be very beneficial.