“Enter into children’s play, and you will find the place where their minds, hearts, and souls meet.” ~ Virginia Axline
Virginia Axline, one of the pioneers of play therapy, understood the importance and beauty of play. You may have heard of art therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and others, but it’s also been discovered that online play therapy, floortime therapy, and PRT can help a child with ASD.
In play therapy, play is used as a healthy outlet for neurotypical children who may be struggling with behavioral or mental health issues. Toys and a play-space are utilized as tools through which children can explore and narrate their emotions and experiences. However, in a medically-reviewed article by Lisa Jo Rudy, she highlights the difference between this kind of play therapy and the therapy provided for kids with autism.
Giving Children A Voice
Rudy states that a number of specialists are offering what they term “play therapy” to autistic children. But what these therapists are actually providing is treatment akin to floortime therapy instead. Floortime therapy is designed to build on an autistic child’s own interests or obsessions and aims to help them to develop relationships and social and communication skills. The difference is that neurotypical children would be using this therapy as an outlet, while for children with autism, floortime therapy can be used to help them find their voice and ways of expressing themselves.
Children with autism experience a range of issues when it comes to social development. One of these issues is centered around communication and specifically speech. If your child has been diagnosed with ASD or is having difficulty expressing themselves through speech or language, it might be time to consult a speech pathologist. In an article for clevelandclinic.org, speech-language therapist Richmond Braun says that by the age of three, children should be able to pronounce ‘t’, ‘d’, ‘n’, and a few other consonants, and by 5 years old they should be able to say most speech sounds. If a child hasn’t reached these milestones, play therapy or a similar therapy style could help to find out why.
PRT Goes Digital
The Covid 19 pandemic disrupted most forms of in-person therapy, including Pivotal Response Treatment (or PRT) therapy for ASD kids. PRT uses toys and spaces to encourage children specifically in the area of speech. This is very similar to the aforementioned floortime therapy, with the focus directed specifically at speaking and asking questions.
Before the pandemic, therapists didn’t see how limiting a real-world space could be, and the results of online PRT were astounding. Grace Gengoux, head of the Stanford program’s clinical team, said she and her team were shocked by how effective it was. Using digital spaces, the child could instantly be placed in whatever environment they described.
By focusing on the children’s immediate fascination with technology, they could reward the children with a range of digitally rendered sounds, spaces, and objects, all of which could be tailored to suit the children’s interests. This new innovation could bring more interest into the relatively fledgling field of play therapy and the many other interlinking therapies for children with autism.