Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Play Therapy

Play therapy is often sought out as an adjunct treatment for children with autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Asperger’s Syndrome (now considered ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means that the brain hasn’t developed in a typical way. Some children with ASD have really impressive strengths, like the ability to remember an amazing amount of facts. They also face challenges with interacting and communicating with others and often engage in repetitive behaviours and have a narrow range of interests. Read this article for more information on the things that kids with ASD struggle with.

Autism and Play Therapy

Although play therapy cannot ‘cure’ ASD it can successfully be utilised as a highly effective intervention before diagnosis, for example, to rule out or determine if the child’s symptoms are transient, due to trauma, adjustment problems, emotional issues, or developmental delays. For children who have a diagnosis of ASD, play therapy can help address the emotional issues that often occur in conjunction with it, such as anxiety.

Treatment for children with autism

  • Typically, children with ASD do not communicate verbally. Play Therapy does not require children to speak, but rather play.
  • Although children with ASD may play differently to other children, often using ritualistic and repetitive play, it is nevertheless play in which they express themselves and communicate their world.
  • Play is the language of children. When toys are used, they become the words for children that they may not be able to express verbally.

 

How can Play Therapy help?

  • Children with ASD often struggle with social communication and interaction. These difficulties often make these children feel isolated from their peers and left feeling lonely. In Play Therapy, children are able to communicate in a way in which they feel most comfortable, often non-verbally. Through this safety and freedom of communicating children can engage the counsellor in their own unique way, working out what is effective and not. This improved communication can then extend to their home and school environment.
  • Children with ASD can have difficulty empathising and understanding the situations of others. Play Therapy helps children have the opportunity to experience empathy within the play therapy relationship and grow in their ability to empathise with others.
  • Managing emotion is hard for lots of children, especially those with ASD. Helping children regulate emotion is a key element of Play Therapy. Through firm but gentle limit setting and returning responsibility, children have the opportunity to increase their ability to manage emotion.
  • Often children with ASD are involved in much needed behaviour modification programs. Often, the unintended side effect is that children learn there is something wrong with them that needs ‘fixing’. Play Therapy embraces a child’s ‘right to be different’ as the counsellor completely accepts the child as they are. This often results on certain behaviours reducing in intensity.
  • Play Therapy can help address anxiety, which often co-occurs in children with ASD.