If you think about the concept of Play or ever watched a group of children "playing" you will
notice that it is all about interacting with others in a cooperative and competitive way.
You will notice children do all sorts of things like communicating their needs and wants, strategizing, interpreting the intentions of others, and taking turns. All important skills they will need to have as they get older and progress into adulthood.
Now think about how useful this "practice" could be for a child that is struggling to develop these skills. This is truly what Play Therapy is all about and it makes it a perfect type of therapy for neurodiverse children. Not only does Play therapy help neurodiverse children strengthen their social, emotional, and behavioural skills it also helps children by giving them a voice and affirming their identity as an individual.
Studies have shown that Play Therapy can strengthen
social navigation skills
refining motor skills and coordination
communication and listening skills.
ability to regulate
the relationship between parent and child
Within Play Therapy there are branches of approaches your child's therapist might encompass during their sessions. Autplay is a great example, you can read about this approach here.
Each child, neurodivergent or neurotypical is different and will have their own experiences and goals. However, the theory behind Play Therapy remains that your child will have the opportunity to develop a trusting relationship with the therapist and feel comfortable. As soon as your child feels safe, they may be motivated to engage more socially with their therapist, and over time generalise these skills in a home and school environment- addressing some of the difficulties often faced by neurodivergent children with social interactions and communication.
What a Play Therapist Does
A truly good play therapist will get down on the floor with your child and truly engage them using "play" as a medium. For example, your child's therapist might set out a number of toys that your child would find interesting, and allow them to decide what, if anything, interests them. If they pick up a toy car and run it back and forth, apparently aimlessly, the therapist might pick up another toy car and place it in front of your child's car, blocking its path. If your child responds, be it verbally or in a non-verbal manner, the relationship between your child and their therapist has begun.
If your child doesn't respond, the therapist might look for other high-interest, high-energy toys to engage your child with. Over a length of time, your child's therapist will begin working on your child's reciprocal skills that involve sharing and turn-taking, progressing to imaginative skills such as pretending to cook and feeding a doll.
Overtime Play therapy becomes a tool for getting neurodiverse children to become fully themselves. It can also, under the right circumstances, be a tool for helping parents learn to relate to their own children.