Young children learn through play. Typically developing children use play to build physical and social skills, to try on different personalities and characters, and to forge friendships. Autistic children, however, may play in very different ways. They are more likely to play alone, and their play is often repetitive, with no particular goal in mind. Left to themselves, autistic children often stay stuck in a rut, unable to explore their own abilities or interests.
Play therapy is a tool for helping autistic children become more fully themselves. It can also, under the right circumstances, be a tool for helping parents learn to relate more fully to their children on the spectrum.
Autism is largely a social-communication disorder. Children with autism find it extremely difficult to relate to others in typical ways. Instead of, for example, pretending a doll is really a baby, they may focus intensely on objects, use them for self-stimulation, and become entirely self-absorbed.
Play is a wonderful tool for helping children (and sometimes even adults) to move beyond autism’s self-absorption into real, shared interaction. Properly used, play can also allow youngsters to explore their feelings, their environment, and their relationships with parents, siblings, and peers.