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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Play Therapy? You cannot be serious!

I believe that 'play therapy' is a term of art, but you can pick your own label.

At three in the afternoon I sneak away to pause and make a pot of tea. 9 hours down, six to go. The noise is deafening but they’re happy playing Pokemon. Not only are they playing pretend but they’re playing together. I do not lie. This is the culmination of many years of play therapy.

In theory, since I am more than half way through the day, with the added lure of ‘electronics’ time in two and a half hours, or 150 minutes as displayed on the visual count downer, this should be plain sailing. But all parents are familiar with the late afternoon threat of thunder. Maybe it’s because they’ve been working hard all day, or awaken so early, but whatever the reason, we parents know that we need to keep a little bit back, tucked up our sleeves, for the inevitable crisis moment.

I double check the weekly menu planner on the fridge to anticipate what level of protest is most likely? Only Wednesday, pizza, and Friday, pasta, are easy. The other five nights a week, we endure dinner, which is merely the opportunity for nutritional input. I pull a face; Asian pork on a bed of steamed rice with wilted Bok Choy. What was I thinking of? A real hard sell. I console myself with the thought that the children’s loss is the compost bin’s gain.

I have played doubles all day. This is where I play something with them that they hate, then they’re released to 'not play' for another thirty minutes, whilst I tackle domestic chores. This has worked surprisingly well, such that I have nearly caught up from the aftermath of the weekend. Thirty minutes is a very long time for an autistic child of any age, when not involved in a preferred activity. I can hardly believe that we have traveled such a long way from those tortured 2 minutes sessions, several years ago.

Even today, I still smart at the recollection.

The initial evaluation took many weeks to complete. Of the many stark facts presented in the report, one or two pin pricks were quite startling. They were startling to me because it allowed me to see myself and my children, through other people’s impartial eyes for the first time. An inaccurate approximation of their report would be, ‘the mother sat on the floor and prompted him to choose a puzzle. Minutes later she choose a preferred dinosaur puzzle and completed it for him while he stared off into the distance.’ At that time I had no clue what to do nor how to do it. I was left with the knowledge that I knew nothing and that when the second evaluation was completed on my younger son, that I would know even less.

I sip my tea and look at the mess. Toys are everywhere. This is evidence that people are playing. I do see toys lined up, but they lack the exactitude of earlier days of OCD. More importantly, I see a mixture, blocks and string, Pokemon and trampolines, Spongebob and Lego, saucepan lids and cars. Your child may be good at using a saucepan lid as a spaceship, or a Frisbee, or a hat, but for my children it has always been just a saucepan lid. Not in the category of toys nor imaginative play. As with anything you teach, sometimes it can take a very long time before you see any results.

‘But why would anyone teach a child to play Madeline? They’re kids, that’s what kids do, they play, right?’ And of course until a few years ago, I would have been on your side. Indeed, since I am a lot meaner than you, I would add, ‘what other useful purpose do they serve other than to play,’ or "isn’t that where the definition 'child’s play' comes from dimwit!" But my experience tells me that this isn’t always the case.

But I can tell that you doubt me, so an example may help.

Only a few years ago I took them all to Toys R Us, at my daughter’s request. I submitted to the pleads and begs because there were so demeaning. Although we have always had enough toys to restock Toys R Us without making a hole in our own reserves, very, very few of them were played with. Repetitive movements and lining up, do not count.

After the usual torture of getting everyone ready, into the car and driving to the accompaniment of two screaming boys, we arrived safe and sound. We negotiated the parking lot to arrive at the entrance. I then spent the next twenty minutes standing by the electric doors as my youngest son jumped in and out of the doorway and my other son lay on the floor playing with the wheel on one of the carts. Behind them was every conceivable toy under the sun, but I couldn’t dislodge either of them. I had forgotten the Goldfish cracker bribes for my Hansel and Gretel impersonation. My brave daughter made little exploratory forays, returning at regular intervals to still my beating heart. Eventually I picked the boys up under protest and navigated our way through the check out.

Her glee at her trophy, was more than compensation enough for my old leaky eyes. Indeed I have been malfunctioning ever since.

I know this is hard for many people to understand, that children must be taught to play, but sometimes, it can be done. I have the evidence before me, namely, several hours of tidying up, just in case you were worried that I might be bored or mislaid my grumpiness.

But I hope this is useful, or perhaps just hopeful, to someone?

Addendum – sprinkles on the cake [translation = over egg the pudding] I should like to mention that no-one noticed when 5:30 electronics time arrived, for the first time ever, at least not until 5:45!

Maybe some of us parents need some "play therapy" too!


dgibbs said...

Firm believer in play therapy. Has made a big difference here.

KC's Blog said...

K.C. is slowly beginning to join Big Brother in some play. It used to be he wanted nothing to do with playing with Big Brother but after years of encouraging and Big Brother's "I am not going to leave you alone until you play with me attitude" it's coming together slowly.
It's so wonderful that the kiddos are playing together:) You have some adorable kiddos!

resilientmom said...

Kudos to you for successful play therapy. Years ago we visited Dr. Stanley Greenspan and he recommended play therapy along with speech and occupational. Play therapy for a non verbal 2 year old was practically impossible. The woman we chose was so enamored with the fact that Greenspan was our doctor, she kind of lost her focus. Actually, the most significant communication we received from our son on this matter was when we met with her one day, he simply handed me my handbag and keys and stood by the door. He knew she was bogus. This is one time that I let a professional skew my resolve, I dropped the play therapy idea.
He's 20 now, communicates well, but misses the ability to stay on task. Perhaps play therapy would have helped. Regrets are counterproductive, but I do have some.
Congrats on your sticktoitiveness!

Jade said...

The company I work for basis a lot of lessons around "play therapy." I think its marvelous! Its a great time to work on Expressive Objective Labeling, Receptive Objective Labeling, turn taking, appropriate independent play, I mean the list can go on and on.
I smiled when I read that he's gone from 2 minutes of play to a half an hour. Thats a great feat for you both! Of course it took time to get there, but he's there. And thats proof of his progress! :-)

Jeni said...

It was two years this past June since the two therapists began coming here and working with Maya -one for speech and the other, for play. Both have worked wonders with her! When the play therapy began, Maya's version of "Play" consisted of picking up a piece of paper, any type, and carrying it around the house, day in, day out. It took a while before the therapist began to get results but she kept at it. For probably the first year, Maya was confined to the high chair during either types of therapy in order to gain her attention better. Initially, she mostly just put things in "order" - lining up blocks (and they all had to have the same type of motif facing up,) lining up matchbox cars, things like that. The first thing she was able to do that really showed progress was happening was when she would work with wooden puzzles. By last June, she had learned numbers and the alphabet -to name them on sight and repeat them, even figured out what came after ten, then 20 and on up the ladder till by late summer last year, she was counting to over 100! Now, she plays with lots of toys, princess dolls that she identified each on immediately on first sight of them, a play camera, anything she can find to simulate a microphone and she sings. It is truly remarkable to us. Tomorrow is a big day though - the psychologist, some people from the agency, the teacher from the pre-school for autistic kids, and her play therapist will be here to work on her IEP for the coming year as she begins "school" (or college, as she calls it -Penn State, no less, aiming high, but that's fine)the day after Labor Day.
Guess you now know my opinion about "Play therapy" don't you?

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