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How to Adapt Play Therapy for An Autistic Child

Updated on February 18, 2011

Playing in a meaningful and fun ways help develops interacting social skills in a child. A typical child develops language and imagination when they engage in fun & play.

It is important to always think of something that the children like to play because when they are happy and relax, that when their learning journey begins. Children express their feelings and emotions through play and it one of the most vital way that they learn and gained life experiences.

Non-Verbal Play Tips

Using The Senses:

Give your child experience of lots of different things to play with. Many household objects are interesting for young children.

Things to feel and look at - Baby mirror, pieces of soft material, soft toys etc.

Things to hold shake and bang - Balls, Rattles, Bells, wooden spoons etc.

Tracking - Children will learn to follow with his eyes. Balloons, bubbles and finger puppets are interesting to watch.

Bubbles - Sit opposite the child and blow bubbles. Wait for eye contact or a vocalization before you blow anymore.

Colored feathers - Blow feathers at the child and tickle him with the feathers.

Musical blowers - Blow softly musical blowers near the child’s face.

Balloons - Blow up balloons and let the child feel the air coming out. Musical balloons make a sound as the air comes through the blower attached to the end.

Pop-up toys - E.g. Jack-in-the-box. Take turns to press the button to make the toy jump up.

Physical play - Soft bricks or beach balls – Play games of throwing and catch with balls or fabric bricks. Blow up beach balls and let the child feel the air coming out.

Bouncing, swinging and rocking - Bounce the child up and down on your lap or play swinging and rocking games in the air or on the floor.

Boxes - Collect boxes for the child to climb in and out. Make a house from a large box and cut out a door for the child to crawl in and out. Boxes can become ”boats”, ”trains”, ”rockets” and anything else the child wants them to be.

Play Therapy is No Child's Play

Play Therapy is often used as tool of diagnosis. A play therapist observes a child playing with toys (play-houses, pets, dolls, etc.) to determine the cause of the disturbed behavior.

The objects and patterns of play, as well as the willingness to interact with the therapist, can be used to understand the underlying rationale for behavior both inside and outside the session. Play Therapy can be used as a self-help mechanism, as long as children are allowed time for "free play" or "unstructured play."

From a developmental point of view, play has been determined to be an essential component of healthy child development. Play has been directly linked to cognitive development. Jean Piaget was a major force in the founding of this field, forming his "theory of cognitive development".

Creating Keet’s world through Play Therapy .

Both Keet’s speech and socializing skill will drive us crazy much of the time. Not being able to express through speech, most of the time he will not be able to get what he want. This indirectly created a stubbornness behavior which whenever he chanced upon a toy he liked, he will not want to share or let go of it. Sometimes, he doesn’t even know what he wants to do with the toys. He will just leave the group taking his favorite toy and just sit down at a corner jabbering to himself in a world of nobody.

In Piaget concept of cognitive structure, the development is facilitated by providing activities to engage learning and adaptation. We have to understand that Keet is a child diagnosed with Autism and hence needed to plan the stage more carefully. An autistic child, interpretation on the intelligence will be much complex. Moreover, Keet was found to have speech delay as well. Hence, Piaget’s view of universal stages may need to be overlapping.

Improving Play Therapy

In Vygotsky, when social interaction comes into play, it clearly shown what can the child achieve independently vs. a child achievement with skilled guidance. A normal child can immediately be elevated to another level of the Piaget stage.

However, it’s important to know what the child needs and what ideas should be presented. A case of an autistic disorder child, a combination of both theories maybe required in order to stage the play. The implementation will need to be sequenced with Piaget first followed by Vygotsky‘s work to achieve greatest improvement in learning. However, when a tool is needed to be developed for the child to initiate the play, the parent guidance of teaching the child, example correct way of holding onto the writing material, “pencil”, is important.

Hence, reversing the sequenced patterns of Vygotsky application followed by Piaget theory is practiced. The reversal of method holds a new path of teaching children with Autism. Well, that’s what we had done to Keet and over the years, it seems to be working. I believed that by having the child to confide to you and eventually gain their trust, their social interaction problems maybe able to be reduced.

Finally, for “Play Therapy”, it should be simple and fun. Ultimately, the children must gain from each play session through enjoyment.

Want to Learn More about Autism?

This article is focus on a narrow aspect of play therapy for autistic children. To keep up with the constantly updated news and research on autism causes and treatments a group of concerned individual (like me) and parents of autistic children (like my friend) have come together to create the website Autism Link Website (ALW) that will provide the information in a factual and substantiated objective approach.

We wish you success in your journey.  

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