How can play therapy help kids with ASD?
If you’ve been around the ASD community for any length of time, you’ve most likely heard of play therapy. When you see a parent playing on the floor with their child, zooming cars and pointing out which colors the different cars are, you might not realize it, but they are engaged in play therapy.
What is play therapy?
Play therapy is a way of teaching children that involves playing games and the usage of toys. It’s typically used with kids between the ages of 3-12 and encourages children to express themselves, interact with others, and communicate their desires.
Benefits of play therapy
The benefits of play therapy are numerous. Children who have had 25+ hours of play therapy a week for two years have shown significant improvement in play and communication skills. A certified play therapist should lead this therapy, but the techniques should be repeated at home for more benefit.
Enhances communication skills
If your child typically plays alone, chances are there’s not a lot of communication happening. One technique used in play therapy is introducing a few new words to your ASD child while you play, prompting them to repeat those new vocabulary words in their communication with you.
If you are hoping to help your child express themselves verbally more frequently, then play therapy can help. It offers plenty of opportunities for simple back and forth conversation between the child and therapist/parent, even if the conversation is “Toss” and “Catch” to start with.
Sensory play can be a particularly special time to introduce new words. Sensory play can be playing with playdough, water, slime, etc. This is a great time to encourage imaginative activities, making new creations with playdough or pretending that fish are swimming in the water. When you introduce the sensory play, you can easily add new words that describe the sensory activity. Pairing words with a sense/smell can help your child remember the new words later on.
Improves social skills
For all children, play is the primary way they establish relationships with others. If we can role play and model playing tag or hide and seek with our ASD children, they will have a framework the next time they are on the playground with peers to begin or enter into a game.
“Through Play Therapy, your child will begin to understand that properly communicating their wants and needs will quickly give them access to desired items or activities.” (Source) If the child is throwing their favorite truck and destroying their environment in the meantime, they will quickly learn that when they are destructive, they are not allowed to play with that favorite toy. Play therapy always offers immediate logical consequences that the child will soon learn.
Group games can be a straightforward way to improve social skills by sharing different toys or taking turns with an activity. Even if the child does not communicate verbally, there is time to work on social skills such as eye contact and respecting personal space.
Can be easily incorporated at home with family
One major positive factor of play therapy is that it can easily transition from the therapy office to home. Kids may even prefer play therapy at home surrounded by their favorite toys and their most trusted adults. Getting down on the floor to truly play with your child can be an excellent time to grow your relationship and bond with them over shared interests.
Families can allow siblings to help facilitate play. You’d be surprised when sometimes the siblings are “better” at facilitating play therapy than the grown-ups! Children will typically play differently with other children than with adults, so it’s best to get the whole family involved if everyone is willing to play.
Play therapy helps children to express their thoughts and feelings constructively. They get to choose which games/toys to play with and how they are played with. That is a tremendous amount of autonomy and can help your child develop confidence in themselves.
Ultimately, play therapy works towards more meaningful goals than teaching children how to play tag nicely with other children. Play therapy teaches life skills such as teamwork, taking turns, making decisions, being in a leadership position, and so much more. These are the skills your child will take into their future and need later in life to be a successful adult.
Other types of play therapy to consider are Integrated Play Groups, Joint Attention Symbolic Play Engagement and Regulation (JASPER), and Floortime. Each of these have their benefits as well as regular play therapy.
Connect with us today at Bright Achievements to start play therapy with your child!