The greatest misunderstanding about Autism is to see the “odd” behaviour of many autistic children as “meaningless” or “random.” In my experience, everything means something, and if we can work to understand what the autistic child is communicating, the door opens to being able to help them recover from their autism. The conclusion that the autistic child’s play or behaviour is meaningless or random is the major obstacle to autistic children receiving the best therapeutic option for them, which is my experience is play therapy.
Play therapy for autism appears simple from the outside: the therapist sets out toys and tells the child he or she can play whatever they like, while the therapist observes or participates in the play and attempts to understand what the child is communicating through the play and their general behaviour. All children are attracted to the openness and relative lack of structure in the therapy (compared to behavioural therapies) – all they “have” to do is play whatever they like. Children also thrive under the individual attention and ongoing concern of the therapist. So participation or interest or compliance rarely become issues in this therapy, since play is something children naturally enjoy.
In addition, the pioneers of play therapy discovered that play is actually the primary way children express what is going on inside of them – their loves, fears, anxieties, and so on. When a play therapist studies the play of a child, this expression becomes a communication of sorts, that the therapist then interprets and uses to understand the unique aspects of the child. Eventually, the meaning of the child’s play and general behaviour can be communicated to the child, and a “conversation” can occur between therapist and child that further elaborates the meaning of the child’s internal problems. While some autistic children may not speak in our word-language, their communications are definitely a type of language that we can learn to speak with them. This is the most significant finding that play therapy has offered autism research. Once we learn the autistic child’s “language”, bridges can then be made to using regular language together.
Autistic children can and do change as a result of play therapy with a trained professional, and I have had several very successful cases with very autistic children who had been more or less “written off.” There is much reason to hope that your child can improve dramatically, but it is vital that you find the right therapist who has the required experience. The therapy is only as good as the therapist.
For more information, please visit my website www.therapyintoronto.com