For children, play is a mode of communication and a vehicle for working out ideas about social roles, fears, and relationships. Counselors working with young children often use hand puppets, stuffed animals, dolls, and sand tables with small figurines to encourage them to "talk" about what's on their minds by playing.

Since one of the hallmarks of Pervasive Developmental Disorders is circumscribed, repetitive, non-imaginative play, traditional play therapy would seem to be an unlikely treatment. However, some therapists still rely on it... usually with predictably uneven results, or none at all. The book Dibs: In Search of Self (Ballantine, reissued 1990) by play therapy pioneer Virginia M. Axline has been unfortunately influential. Widely read by psychology students, the book never mentions that the child "Dibs" is obviously on the autistic spectrum. Instead, the parents are blamed for his "emotional disturbance," and his dedicated therapist must save him.

Traditional play therapy may be worthwhile for working with non-verbal children who have had life traumas in addition to PDDs, because to a well-trained therapist it can provide clues and an avenue for communication. Unless it is incorporated into a structured program, such as the floor-time program described previously, it is unlikely to be useful in general.

Site: Jessica Kingsley Publishers: Play Therapy Home Page

Article: Parents’ Page on Play Therapy

Site: Texas Association For Play Therapy
Recommended Reading: "Reaching Children Through Play Therapy” by Carol Crowall Norton, Ed. D. and Byron E. Norton, Ed. D.
Leaps and Bounds (Ontario)

5: November 21, 2001