I was talking to my friend Ashlee this afternoon and she asked me, “What all do you do for Cali?” As I started listing off the various treatments and therapies we use, I was reminded again how much I love all of them but one in particular, Play Project.
“The P.L.A.Y. Project is a proven therapy program for children with autism. PLAY Project therapists train parents to help children connect, communicate and build relationships with others.”
- Richard Soloman, MD
Richard Soloman established Play Project in 2001 with the purpose of helping parents become trained and able to be their “child’s best P.L.A.Y. partner.” We are all too familiar with autistic children not having the capacity to play well with their peers. Some people argue “they’ll come around” or “leave them be, they are happier when they are in their own world.” But absolutely not! They won’t come around and really they do want to be a part of the group, they just don’t know how. WE need to teach them how. They deserve to be taught. Dr. Soloman is keenly aware of this need to teach them and with his program kids can and will make improvements in their ability to play and be a part of their surroundings.
At home consulting is the base of this Play Project. A trained and certified consultant will come to the home to train you, the parent on how to correctly interact and connect with your child. Madi, Cali’s developmental specialist is currently becoming certified. Tomorrow will mark our fourth play project session. It’s absolutely amazing. This is how it works with us. The session lasts for two hours. Madi and I will take turns playing one on one with Cali. When one of us is playing the other is filming. If it is my turn to play, Madi will make comments here and there to guide me along, correct my mistakes, or applaud my correct moves. If I am filming, I will try to just watch, but if necessary I will interject a question or so. The filming is the critical part though. After the session, Madi then goes home to write up an entire review, minute by minute, of each our play. To give you a look into her review, here is what she had to say about one of my interactions with Cali:
“When we start out, Cali is engaged in a comfort zone activity, which is playing with figurines. You do great following her lead and using Rabbit Hole techniques to stay with her…”
This is probably very confusing to all of you, but basically what she is saying is that at the beginning of our play Cali is at a certain level of play, in this case a lower level. Rabbit Hole techniques are ways to play with a child when they are interacting at a lower level (lower than their developmental age) The reason I point out this specific from Madi’s review is because it shows how detailed and in tune she is with Cali’s play. Most people would say, “Great, she is playing with figurines. Looks like good imagination. All I have to do is play along with her.” Yes, playing along with her is definitely better than letting him or her play alone, but there is so much more to play than any of us realize!
When playing we need to be aware of their comfort zones (This helps you to be aware of when they become less engaged. For Cali this means playing with figurines and tuning us out) and their sensory motor profile (This helps you to know what kind of play your child will respond to the best). We also need to be aware of their functional developmental level or what level of play they are functioning at. For example, if your four year old child is functioning at a one year old’s level, you certainly wouldn’t want to be playing at a four year old’s level. They will never engage. It is too far above their level to understand.
Here are some suggested techniques Madi provided for me on her review:
- Rabbit Hole techniques: specifically practice imitating her, helping her do it better.
- Wait time: When she is engaged, wait for her to initiate and continue games.
See what I mean! Much more to playing than just sitting and scripting a scenario with dolls or G.I. Jo’s.
- Playful obstruction: “Play dumb”. Act like you don’t know what she wants and make her communicate to you what she wants.
- Sensory motor play: Incorporate sensory motor play and movement into any activity that you can. This will help her stay regulated and keep her affect high.
- Switch it up: When she’s engaged and has done a sequence 3 times, think of how you can make it harder for her.
- Slap stick humor: The sillier the better for Cali! This can be your go-to tool in engaging her in play.
Like any therapy, Play Project is not cheap. But I am here to tell you, at least try it out. I’ve said before that no two autistic children are the same, which means there is no “single magic bullet” for helping kids to improve and learn to compensate for their autistic tendencies, but how will you ever know if you don’t try. I was so inspired by Megan’s hope story featured last Friday. Her mom and dad stopped at nothing in order to provide Megan the therapy they believed would be most beneficial for her. Cheryl, her mom, held three jobs at one point! Play project has been amazing after only three sessions. No, Cali did not improve from the sessions alone. I have been reading the reviews and trying to work on our play each and every day. Remember, that’s the whole purpose of the play project. Training us as parents to know how to do it on our own.
If you go to the play project site, you are able to listen to the free webinar they offer. A webinar giving an ”Introduction to the PLAY Project Training Program”. You can also purchase their dvd which I purchased just today!
The contents on the video help parents learn the basics of a play-based therapy. Sixty dollars and worth EVERY penny! Yes, y’all are probably thinking that’s a ridiculous amount for a dvd, but I PROMISE you it is not expensive.
Here are some contacts for Utah PLAY Project certified individuals/programs (taken from the PLAY Project site):
Baby Watch Early Intervention Program
Easter Seals-Goodwill Northern Rocky Mountain
Jordan Child Development Center
2827 W. 13400 South
Riverton, UT. 84065
PLAY with JOY
The Children’s Center
350 South 400 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
[contact] Lori Krasny