Updated: Aug 26, 2021
Fecha Yap does a Question & Answer Session with Therapy Inc.
It is widely known that there is no known single cause for autism spectrum disorder. Still, researchers are investigating several theories that may link hereditary, genetic, and medical problems. Some children with autism may have difficulties in expressing themselves or not aware of their surroundings. They may also exhibit social relationship issues. As a result of not expressing themselves appropriately, the children became anxious, or it may cause anger. In this situation, some of us would interpret their behaviour as 'misbehaving'.
One of Fecha's many strategies when working with children experiencing difficulty expressing themselves is using Sandplay.
Playing with sand has a plethora of benefits. They provide tactile, visual, and auditory sensory stimulations making Sandplay one of the best tools for both sensory play and accessing a child's deeper inner-self. Generally, sand play therapy is non-verbal and symbolic. Sandplay therapy puts great emphasizes spontaneity and brings to the forefront a dynamic quality towards the creative experience. It helps children to open up and access deeper self-awareness within the child. Play therapy is ideal for children between 3 to 14 years old who show emotional, social and conduct difficulties. To empower children with problems and support their inner-core growth, Play Therapy will be an effective intervention option.
The main component of Sandplay therapy is that it is a free and protected place. The elements are the tray, the relationship with the therapist, sand, water, and miniatures, where the child has the freedom to construct a concrete manifestation of their inner world. The therapist's role is to attune with the child during the creative process of building what is in the sand tray as part of the child's emotional processing and, ultimately, healing. There are many figurines and symbols the child can choose from to play out and present his or her world and experiences. For example, they use cars and animals, sea creatures, superheroes, houses, furniture, etc. The Play Therapy methodology employs giving a child the space to use the miniatures in any way they want (as long as it is safe), no words are required, and the child is entirely in control.
One of the biggest questions we get from parents is, "What if my child has sensory sensitivities and thus might not be comfortable with Sandplay. How does a play therapist work around this?"
The short answer is that Play therapy involves a myriad of tools and strategies within the playroom. The Play Therapy toolkit is based on the Holistic Child Approach, which includes: Art materials, Sand play, Puppets and Masks, Drama and role-play, Musical instruments, Dance & Movement, Creative Visualization, Storytelling, etc. The child will be given the freedom to chose whatever they are comfortable with within the session. There are also other sensory tools like water, slime, clays, and playdough.
What kind of improvements can you expect?
Besides being used as a communication to the client's inner world, sand play can be used purely as sensory play. While every child has their likes and dislikes, most find sensory play both fun and therapeutic, and in the process, can help their development in a whole range of ways.
Support Cognitive development (learning)
Kids learn about the world around them through exploring, and having plenty of sensory experiences gives kids the chance to discover and share what they've seen, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted. New and frequent experiences create connections that improve a child's ability to do more complex learning activities and enhance their memory skills.
Improve fine motor skills
Sensory play also involves lots of action, for example, lifting, throwing, splashing, squeezing, etc. While these actions may seem small, they all support developing different muscle groups and help kids to build their fine motor skills. These also help to build their problem-solving skills.
Support emotional development
For kids, sensory play can often be very calming and can help them work through troubling emotions such as anxiety and frustration. It will help them to self regulate. Working with materials that require pressure and manipulation, such as kinetic sand, can help kids release physical energy or tension, and other materials can trigger positive feelings like joy and excitement.
Support language development (Communication)
Kids have no shortage of opportunities to communicate during sensory play, both verbally and non-verbally – whether they describe what they are feeling, hearing, seeing, smelling, or experiencing through body sensations.
Improve Social skills
Sensory play is most fun when it's done with friends – and it's also a great chance to learn! When kids play together, they see how others handle the materials, share their ideas and discoveries, and make friends.
We all like and dislike different things – and a great way of finding out your personal preferences is through firsthand experience! Through sensory play, kids can explore and communicate how they feel and learn that their feelings are valid – whether they love the smell of lemons or hate the feeling of slime. It leads to a greater sense of self. For those with a sensory processing disorder, this sensory play will provide them sensory input.
A child may find it challenging to play with other children when there is too much going on in their environment with conflicting noises or sights. Through sensory play, the child can learn to block out the noise which is not essential and focus on the space. Children need to explore, experience, and receive feedback from their actions on objects to progress according to their cognitive development level. The environment is a crucial factor, as children construct knowledge by handling tangible things and using their senses to learn through hands-on experiences.
How to get rid of inappropriate sand play and redirect to proper play?
Play therapy is a nondirective, non-judgemental, and non-interpretative process. There are safety boundaries put into place, such as playing with the sand only inside the sandbox, not mixing dry sand and wet sand, all figurines are kept safe and intact, etc. Boundaries will help to facilitate the child's opportunities to learn self-responsibility and self-control. Consistency also plays a massive role in this, as we keep being persistent on safety. It allows the child to know what to expect and reduces anxiety.
Each child is unique in their way. Therefore each child may display different ways of learning and how they acquire information. Some children may excel in math, arts, music, etc., and this will affect their choice of toolkits in the playroom. For example, if the child excels in math, they might choose building blocks or board games. Play Therapy is nondirective, non-judgmental, and non-interpretive therapy; the child is motivated to choose what and how he wants to use the toys within safety boundaries. The therapist will follow the child, attune, and reflect, guiding the child to work on his issues and empower him towards a resolution. As to other therapy services, play therapy will take some time to show positive outcomes. Therefore, we have to trust the process!