When you think of the word ‘therapy’ it’s natural to envision a strait-laced business professional with a notepad and a theory on why you’re like your mother. However, for children with special needs therapy isn’t always dressed in a three-piece suit and toting theories of repressed memory. In fact, play therapy specifically, differs from other forms of therapy because it is meant to build on the communicative and learning processes of children in a natural setting. After all, what is more appealing to a child than having fun?
By using play, a therapist is able to create natural opportunities that occur regularly in a child’s life. I’m sure you’ve probably witnessed two children arm-wrestling over a set of Legos or a 4-year-old unraveling at the seams after losing a less-than-friendly game of Candy Land; these are both everyday situations that children can learn from. Play therapy is a way of interacting with a child in their ideal environment, while still working on therapeutic strategies like coping abilities, expressive language and receptive capabilities.
It isn’t always feasible or reasonable to put a child in a chair at a table and expect them to learn. Think back to your days in grade school; how many of the kids were falling asleep in lecture hall while the teacher systematically explained the theory of evolution? Play therapy is fun, exciting and authentic. It’s a type of therapy that is centered on showing a child how to make conversational turns, rather than telling him/her they have to converse. Play therapy is teaching a child how to take turns, rather than simply telling a child why taking turns is important. Play therapy teaches motivation, response to multiple cues, self-management and most importantly, it teaches social interaction.
So, the moral of the story is that although some forms of therapy are done at a table, faster learning acquisition and higher maintenance of the learned skills occur when using a natural environment…such as play.