by Benjamin Lamm
A child with autism often also suffers from sensory processing disorder (SPD), which can make them hyper- or under-sensitive to certain sensory inputs. Sometimes, SPD is misdiagnosed as ADHD or other hyperactivity disorders, because under-sensitive kids may crave constant movement or noise. Sensitivities can be especially frustrating for you, the parent, because you want to find a way to make your child comfortable without compromising their safety. Fortunately, play therapy with people games provides a healthy outlet that also provides necessary therapy for coping with SPD.
We, at Kutest Kids therapy center, would like to share what works in our experience, so you can ahead and try these games with your child at home.
Play Therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder
Although it looks pretty ordinary, play therapy can be the single most effective means for working with your child. When done correctly, the elements of play allow parent and child to work together to develop specific coping mechanisms for sensory input. This can reduce meltdowns and help your child feel more comfortable in previously stressful situations.
Play therapy comes in many forms, but people games are one of the more effective forms for managing SPD. A people game involves people and actions that directly address your child’s sensitivity preferences. Since they involve very little outside stimulation, it gives you and your child a chance to work together, which also improves your relationship with the child.
People Games in Action
A people game in action may not appear that involved to an outsider, but the movements and words in the game are a subtle form of therapy that can yield large results. The best way to understand a people game is by seeing an example in action.
A child under-sensitive to sound may yell at inopportune times, bang on items, or have trouble modulating their vocal volume. To learn coping mechanisms for this, develop a sound-based people game, such as the following:
The parent begins, “Now is when we whisper,” talking in a quiet whisper. The parent may follow this up with a specific phrase or word in the whisper. The child repeats it, trying to match their parents volume. Next, the parent says the phrase or word again, in a slightly louder voice. The game continues, with both parent and child getting steadily louder, until they are almost yelling. Then, they go in reverse, getting quieter. The child has received the outlet they need for noise, while also beginning to master the ability to control their volume and voice when necessary.
A child with an hyper-sensitivity to touch has difficulty with new textures and feelings. They must learn to cope with new textures slowly so they don’t feel overwhelmed or threatened. A people game may use objects with varying textures, such as sandpaper, soft blankets, feathers and liquids. Parent and child may take turns tracing designs on each object. The child is never forced to touch a specific texture, but is encouraged to emulate their parent to the extent of their current abilities.
Hope for the Future
The sooner you begin to integrate play therapy and people games into your child’s treatment plan, the more drastic and hopeful the results. Studies show that children that begin play therapy as toddlers are more likely to learn acceptable coping mechanisms that will aid them in later childhood and adulthood. Although your child may never completely overcome their sensitivities, they can learn to live with them in a healthy way that won’t compromise their future contentment and happiness.