Could your child with special needs benefit from play therapy?


Children are mini social scientists. They look at the world around them and try to make sense of it.


But young children with special needs face extra challenges in interpreting this world. When they have trouble understanding what is real and what is pretend or imagined, their thoughts and concerns can be overwhelming.


While poor sleep and adjusting to change can be part of childhood, when issues persist and begin to get in the way of learning and socializing, then the child’s challenging behaviors may be a call for help. Play therapy could be the answer.


What is play therapy?

The Association for Play Therapy website says play therapy is designed to:


“…help children express what is troubling them when they do not have the verbal language to express their thoughts and feelings (Gil, 1991). In play therapy, toys are like the child's words and play is the child's language (Landreth, 2002). Through play, therapists may help children learn more adaptive behaviors when there are emotional or social skills deficits (Pedro-Carroll & Reddy, 2005).”


Rather than traditional ‘talk therapy,’ play therapy can be a more developmentally-appropriate approach for addressing the needs of your child. Play becomes the avenue for healing, growing, exploring, and communicating.


The ‘play’ in play therapy is a special kind of play that allows the child to lead the work. Sometimes this work is called Child-Centered Play Therapy. The child gains confidence and control over feelings and thoughts in the setting of the playroom. The process takes place over time and allows the child to gain a better sense of self and self-worth, which can replace challenging behaviors like sleepwalking or tantrums.


What to expect from play therapy and therapists

When working with a family, a play therapist typically completes an assessment and interview with you to fully understand your child. Then they will plan out with you the goals that you wish to have your child achieve. Next, the child gets familiar with the play therapist by exploring the special materials of the playroom. Many play therapists use a technique called Sand Tray Therapy, an activity where materials are used as symbols to allow the child to discover things about themselves.


Some children use play therapy quickly and can make great strides over relatively few sessions. Other children may take time to feel the comfort of the play space, and gradually reveal their thoughts and concerns through play, to make them feel less scary and overwhelming.


To help you learn more, there are also great videos you can look at that discuss the foundations and outcomes of play therapy and the theory behind it.



How to find a play therapist

Play therapists are the first to say that play is fun and fundamental. But play therapy is also serious work. A registered play therapist is a mental health provider who must complete comprehensive training and supervision in order to become certified.


Find someone in your area using the lookup links at the New England Association of Play Therapy or the Association for Play Therapy.


Play therapy services may be covered in full or in part by your health insurance or employee benefit plan. When you contact a registered play therapist, ask them.