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What is Play Therapy in an ABA Setting?

When working to create positive behavioral change for your child with autism, an extremely important and successful technique is play. Specifically within ABA therapy, play-based therapy is most often represented in Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), but it can be found throughout the framework created for your child.

Play therapy is vital for a number of reasons – the simplest of which is that your child will be having fun while learning new skills. That in and of itself creates a tremendous foundation for growth, as well as the fact that it allows for programming that might be difficult to access otherwise. Read more to see how a play-based therapy like PRT can help promote change for the better in your child and family’s lives.

What is Pivotal Response Treatment?

Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) is a play-based therapy based on the principles of ABA therapy. It is ideally implemented across a number of settings and is lead by your child.

Play Therapy

The goals of PRT include:

  • Increasing communication and dynamic language skills
  • Developing positive social behaviors
  • Decreasing disruptive behaviors, especially self-stimulatory ones

The pivotal areas that are worked on are conceptual and designed to generalize, rather than target one specific behavior. This means there will be improvements on the skill worked on, but they can translate to other areas of communication and social interaction.

Who is Involved in Play Therapy?

While we mentioned play therapy or PRT as being initiated by the child, it is not quite that simple. Typically, it will be between a child and a BCBA, therapist, psychologist, educator, or someone who has participated in training to implement each of the points of PRT. This can also include parents or family members in a support group.

To get started with pivotal response treatment, partner with your child’s BCBA. It will usually be part of a specific ABA framework that’s part of your child’s treatment plan. From there, the people included in the process will be dependent on the different environments that a professional recommends for play-based therapy.

How is Play Therapy Beneficial?

PRT can be implemented to improve your child’s communication skills as well as help them to expand how they interact with peers. It will help them focus on language, communication, or other intricate elements of day-to-day interaction that frustrate them.

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Common items implemented to help facilitate play therapy or PRT can include:

  • Stuffed Animals: Children often want to play with their favorite toys, and stuffed animals are great for using as proxy communicators that a therapist or adult can control in PRT.
  • Puzzles and Board Games: Games and activities that teach turn-taking and sportsmanship are great to incorporate into PRT. Additionally, once a child is familiarized with these formats, the skill level of the games and puzzles can be adjusted as they progress over time.
  • Cause and Effect Toys: Toys such as instruments and train sets can prove very effective for teaching motor skills, cause-and-effect, and other early ABA skills.

Studies have shown that PRT helps improve social skills and interactive behaviors; including toys and games is just one way to expand the options a child has to connect with play-based therapy. Overall, everyone in a child’s support system can benefit from PRT if it proves to be effective, as it is an inductive way to teach and learn.

What to Expect in a PRT or Play Therapy Session

One important thing to understand is that elements of ABA therapy are tailored to the child’s individual needs.

These programs can involve 20+ hours a week of training, and the goal is to eventually accommodate advanced goals and needs.

This may seem like a significant commitment for therapy, but PRT is one of the most validated behavioral treatments for autism spectrum disorder. It is often covered by insurance, but we recommend consulting with your clinic beforehand to get clarity on the style, frequency, and costs associated for PRT or play therapy.

parent with child

Have Fun and Embrace Growth at Ally Pediatric Therapy

At Ally Pediatric Therapy, our job is to provide children and their families with the most efficient avenues to improve behavioral skills. We take great pride in our staff, programming, and play-based development processes, and would love to help you and your child.

If you are interested in learning more about play-based therapy or PRT, please reach out for a free consultation. Together, we can take steps towards a more fun-filled future.