Play therapy is one of the most prevalent and valuable tools in ABA therapy for autism. It incorporates an element of fun that is not found in many other feedback-based behavioral programs.
In this guide to how and why play therapy works, we’ll cover the following:
- What is play therapy?
- Why is play therapy important for children?
- How does play therapy work for Autistic children?
- Examples of play therapy
- How to enroll your child in play therapy
We all want our children to maximize their potential, and finding a treatment program that fits their needs is critical for this success. We hope this information about how your child can benefit from play therapy can offer more knowledge and help you with making the best decision for them.
What is Play Therapy?
Play therapy is a technique that uses a child’s natural urge to play and have fun in a given environment as a tool to develop behavioral skills. Play therapists use toys, games, and other exercises to help children explore, express, and have positive experiences while addressing certain impediments or delays specific to their life.
Play therapy is used by Board Certified Behavioral Analysts (BCBA), psychologists, therapists, and teachers. It is important that each play therapy session is specific to the environment in your child’s life and that it remains a safe and fun space.
Why is Play Therapy Important for Children?
It has been said that play therapy for children is similar to counseling for adults. While play therapy’s fun and free-spirited nature differ from being in a counselor’s office, the output of relaxed behavioral correction is similar.
For children and adults, being engaged and enjoying an activity can significantly contribute to its efficacy – primarily when a large portion of long-term growth in behavioral skills is attributed to consistency and repetitions of specific skills. In ABA therapy for autism, play therapy fits into the framework extremely well because games and fun activities often have distinct start and stop points that create trackable metrics for therapists, clinicians, and parents to use.
How Does Play Therapy Work for Autistic Children?
For autistic children, an ABA clinician or therapist will use Pivotal Response Treatment – a play-based treatment built on the tenets of ABA therapy. This specific method is designed to utilize the evidence-based approach of ABA therapy for autism across multiple environments.
The goals of Pivotal Response Treatment for kids with autism include:
1. Developing or reinforcing positive social behaviors
2. Decreasing disruptive behaviors – especially self-stimulatory ones
3. Enhancing communication and dynamic language skills
4. Targeting pivotal areas that can be generalized across multiple environments
Like any other treatment in an ABA framework, a licensed therapist or clinician will create unique programming for your child and their most common environments. From there, parents, caretakers, teachers, or anyone else in your support network can help your child by engaging in the activities of PRT.
Examples of Play Therapy
Play therapy is tailored to your child’s individual needs, but there are everyday items and games that therapists use in many cases. Some examples of play therapy include:
- Puzzles and Board Games: Turn-taking and rules are great concepts that play therapy can teach or reinforce. Once a child has familiarized themselves with a puzzle or game format, their skill-building element can also be valuable.
- Cause and Effect Toys: Cause and effect toys include instruments, toy phones, and jack-in-the-box style displays. Any item that correlates between an action and a result will teach children that their behaviors have consequences.
- Puppets, stuffed animals, and costumes: Dressing up and role-playing are great ways to have children express their emotions while using an avatar to represent them.
- Arts and Crafts: Learning skills through creative outlets will encourage the view that learning and growing a child’s ability is fun and worthwhile.
These are just some examples of play therapy – the possibilities are nearly limitless, and a good ABA therapist or clinician will continue to find ways to engage your child during PRT.
How to Enroll Your Child in Play Therapy
Play therapy may sound like all fun and games, but it still is critical to be provided by licensed clinicians or mental health professionals. For autistic children, play therapy or PRT should be introduced by their therapist, ABA clinician, or specialized professional.
Once you have enrolled your child in ABA therapy, a clinician will create a unique framework that will include PRT or play therapy. From there, you, other caretakers, and educators can engage in play therapy techniques across multiple environments to help reinforce the skills being taught.
We always recommend consulting your pediatrician, ABA therapist, or other mental health professionals before adding any treatment or technique to your child’s programming.
Published On: June 18, 2021
Updated On: November 18, 2022