In a recent article, Rachel Simeone-Russell, of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, explains how incorporating Theraplay into a classroom setting can provide tremendous benefits for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their peers. Theraplay, a form of counseling that integrates play activities with therapy, is effective at strengthening attachment relationships. For children with ASD, developing functional teacher-student relationships, as well as peer interactions, is imperative for social and academic success. Theraplay was created by Dr. Ann Jernberg in the 1960’s, and was influenced by Des Lauriers’ studies on ASD and how particular therapeutic approaches increased communication and social skills for children with ASD. Therefore, conclusions have been drawn linking Theraplay to effective treatment for ASD.
Theraplay relies on a model that includes structure, engagement, nurturing and challenge related activities. These dimensions play key roles in the development of the child. “Structure, for example, provides children with clear rules and can promote children’s sense of security,” said Simeone-Russell. “Structure-related activities work toward allowing children to comply with simple directions from the therapist, teacher, or caregiver.” She added, “Nurture is perhaps one of the most important dimensions of Theraplay. Most importantly, as children feel more and more accepted, self-esteem develops and strengthens.”
Simeone-Russell believes that Theraplay can be integrated into kindergarten with relative ease by employing resources that already exist. “Group Theraplay can be implemented with multiple children in a classroom setting with a mental health professional (e.g., school counselor, social worker, etc.) and teacher present,” she said. “By providing a practical approach to implementing Theraplay and Group Theraplay, the mental health professional is able to help mainstreamed children with ASD to form healthy attachments to their teacher. Additionally, children with ASD can work toward academic and developmental success in the classroom setting, development of supportive relationships with teachers and the mental health professional, and improvement in social interactions with peers.”
Simeone-Russell, R. (2011, August 15). A Practical Approach to Implementing Theraplay for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. International Journal of Play Therapy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0024823
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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