Therapies. A word that you should get ready to hear a lot if you have, or suspect, that your child may be on the spectrum. Like a parent with a child in any active sporting activity, you will likely find your week speckled with a variety of therapy sessions. OT, PT, Speech, Feeding, we have tried them all and in time I hope to have run downs for you on each. The truth is, whether you have a formal diagnosis or not, it is never too early to begin therapies that may help your child. But where do you start? All too many times you come out of a diagnosis appointment and you are still left with the question of “Well, what do I do now?”. They tell you that early intervention can be a HUGE factor in the success of your child, but like I said, there are so many choices! It is hard to know which one is right to get the ball rolling. Now, I am a firm believer that you never should put all your eggs in one basket. Like I said, we have tried many therapies, some overlapping even if need be. In my personal opinion, Play Project is one of the best to start with, especially if you are starting when your child is young.
What is Play Project? Well for more detailed information, I would tell you to check out their website directly (click here for more info). But the basic rundown, it is a therapy that will teach parents (or caregivers) how to play with your children in a way that will maximize their engagement. The therapy is taught directly to parents by a certified consultant, and generally that professional will continue to meet with you every few weeks or once a month to make sure you are still on track. There is a book written on the Play Project as well by the creator, Dr. Richard Solomon, that is worth checking out too.
One of the best things about play project is that once you start to learn it, you can do it all at home without a therapist present. This not only makes Play Project more effective in how it works, but it will not break the bank either. You may find a variety of people who will push a start with Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), and to each his own. In my personal experience, ABA has value but comes in short compared to the gains you can see with Play Project. Luckily for us, play project is offered through our local County Board of Developmental Disabilities Early Intervention program. So, we actually started Play project ourselves about 6 months before my son was even diagnosed.
Play Project is different than the other therapies we have tried. It was designed to help build engagement which is something that many autistic children struggle with. As the engagement builds, it helps overall with your child’s social and functional development. I will stress that to make this work, you really do have to put the time in, like 20 hours per week of playing. For a child that is hard to engage, it can really be a lot more work than you realize, at least in the beginning anyways. The idea that you just have to spend time playing with your kids seems pretty easy, but I will say that for two working adults at the time, putting in that much focused time did feel intensive. It definitely paid off though.
Play project was created to be focused on young children through the age of six. They focus on the younger ages due to all the changes in the brain that occur before they hit that age. But even though doing play project early will give you the most bang for your buck, I have personally sat through a seminar which showed the great improvements seen even in adults with autism who started the Play Project program. So, it is really never too late to start!
In our personal experience, we saw great improvements while doing Play Project. Our son’s engagement grew. While it grew, he had fun, we had fun, and he became to communicate more with us. We were fortunate that our county offered the program even past the “early intervention” age of three and with a child who qualified they were able to continue the program with us until age six. So alongside trying other therapies as well, we continued for the full time that they allowed us.
Then, even after Damion turned 6, we were able to utilize our county play project consultant to introduce Play Project into our son’s classroom in Kindergarten through a variation called “Teaching Play”. Teaching play offers the same basic foundations of play project into a classroom setting. It works on building engagement in ways that make the learning more fun for them. Overall, we found that the more people in Damion’s life that learned the basic concepts of Play Project, the better off he was.
I am now to the point where I have been playing in a Play Project way for so many years, it is actually just the way I play with all my kids now. In many ways, I think it has helped my children who are not even on the spectrum.
I am not sure overall how prevalent play project is in all areas. It seems pretty easy to access in the counties around where we live in Ohio, but even so, I have come across plenty of people who work with children with ASD that have never even heard of it. It is definitely something to talk to your local board of DD and inquire about. If you can’t find services there, the Play Project website will give information on how to access the program near you as well.
When we started Play Project, I essentially had a non-verbal child with little to moderate engagement. Damion is now very verbal. We still struggle with his pragmatic language but we continue to work on that. Damion is able to be in a regular classroom at public school (with an aid) and he only leaves the class to do his Occupational and Speech services. I don’t believe I can contribute all of his success to Play Project alone, as I said we have tried many helpful things alongside the program over the years, but it was a big factor. If you have concerns, it is never too early, or too late, to get started on the Play Project program.
“When you do what the child loves the child will love being with you.”
Dr. Rick Solomon