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Child-Centered Play Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
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In the last section, we discussed floor-time with a family approach. This included time for siblings and time for parents.
I found it helpful with Colleen and Aidan, from the last section, to discuss Two Goals of Floor-time to be used with Devon, their autistic son, age 8. I stated, "Two things to aim for in playing with Devon include following Devon’s lead and bringing Devon into a shared world." What might you tell your Colleen and Aidan to aim for in playing with their autistic children?
2 Things to Aim for Regarding Playing
♦ #1 Following the Child’s Lead
I stated, "First, let’s discuss following Devon’s lead. This is like harnessing Devon’s natural interests." Aidan asked, "Why would we need to follow Devon’s lead? I mean, we can’t just let him do whatever he wants, can we?"
I stated, "In floor-time, I would encourage you to take your cues from Devon because his interests are the windows to his emotional and intellectual life. Through observing Devon’s interests and natural desires, we can get a picture of what he finds enjoyable, what motivates him. If Devon is staring at a fan, rubbing a spot on the floor over and over, or always walking on his toes, these might seem like actions that you would want to discourage. However, something about the behavior is meaningful, or pleasurable to him."
Colleen stated, "I’d want to know why Devon was engaging in repetitive behavior like that…staring at a fan or rubbing spot on the carpet." I stated, "That’s a good way to start following Devon’s lead, by asking why he’s engaging in a repetitive activity. Of course, it’s tempting to say ‘It’s because he has this or that disorder.’
That may be true, but, as you know, Devon is not the disorder or the set of problems. He is a real human being. If children can’t express their desires or wishes, we have to deduce what they enjoy from what they are doing. Therefore, in floor-time, it can be helpful to begin by following Devon’s lead and joining him in his own world."
♦ #2 Bringing the Child into a Shared World
I asked Colleen and Aidan, "Does Devon play often with other people?" Aidan stated, "Actually, we have a play group that we take him to, but Devon is usually very withdrawn. He generally likes to play by himself."
I stated, "The second goal of floor-time is to bring Devon into a shared world. Of course, we don’t want to bring him in kicking and screaming, but he will likely feel closer to you if he sees that you can respect and participate in what interests him. Even if his activities are withdrawn or seemingly aimless, you can engage in those activities with him. As Devon starts giving you some friendly or curious glances, it’s better than running away from you, and that’s the beginning of a shared world. Once Devon enjoys participating, he can begin to learn the basic abilities of relating, communicating, and thinking. The ultimate goal from bringing children into a shared world is to help them become empathetic, creative, logical, reflective individuals."
Colleen asked, "How can following Devon’s lead help him learn to be creative or logical?" How might you have answered this question?
I stated, "Let me give an example. If Devon always wants to play with his favorite toy instead of interacting, you might want to use a strategy of being playfully obstructive; You can gently scoop the toy up, put it on your head and make silly faces, and see if he will reach for it. You could then show him that you are putting it outside the door. When he bangs on the door to get it back, you might ask, ‘Should I help you?’ Pretty soon he might be taking your hand and putting it on the doorknob. Eventually, he might say, ‘Open’ to get you to open the door to get his favorite toy."
Aidan stated, "Devon can be very narrowly-focused, though. He has a hard time integrating attention to people and things at the same time." What suggestions might you have made to Colleen and Aidan?
I stated, "To help Devon become more interactive with more flexible attention, you or a caregiver could join his play and become one of the characters in the drama, rather than simply intruding into Devon’s play. This can encourage a continuous flow of creative dialogue with Devon. Sometimes, though, all that is needed is to help a child toward his own goals.
"If Devon is moving a truck back and forth and you make your hands into a tunnel, he might look at you and give you a big smile, and move the truck right into your tunnel. That would give you shared attention, engagement, purposeful action, and some problem-solving. Eventually, you might introduce the word ‘truck’ and he might repeat it. You could even give him choices, like, ‘Do you want to move it into the tunnel or into the house?’ If he responds verbally, then you have thinking occurring as well as the use of words."
Would playing this section be beneficial to a client you are currently treating who is struggling with how to reach into their autistic child’s world?
In this section, we discussed Two Goals of Floor-time. These included following the child’s lead and bringing the child into a shared world.
In the next section, we will discuss doctors and long waits. This will include flexibility, appointments, and during sessions.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Guest, J. D., & Ohrt, J. H. (2018). Utilizing child-centered play therapy with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and endured trauma: A case example. International Journal of Play Therapy, 27(3), 157–165.
Hillman, H. (2018). Child-centered play therapy as an intervention for children with autism: A literature review. International Journal of Play Therapy, 27(4), 198–204.
MacCormack, J. (2019). Part 1: Why child-centered play therapists should care about play-based social interventions for youth with ASD. International Journal of Play Therapy, 28(3), 157–167.
What are the two goals of floor-time?
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