Play based therapy techniques use the child’s interests and skills to target therapy goals. It is used in many areas of pediatric practice. I use it to target speech and language goals by following the child’s lead and building skills in a developmental structure.
Play is the building blocks of language and communication development. There is a lot of research that shows that play helps develop language in the early years and even into early adolescence.
There are developmental standards to play that clinicians follow when implementing play-therapy for treatment. Typically, language develops along a similar trajectory. This means that if a child has not moved past a specific play skill, their language may be stuck at that stage as well.
Check out this visual from the updated (2000) Westby Playskills. It provides an outline of what typical play development looks like.
Play skills in the early stages of development is considered Pre-symbolic.
This means that children are using the toys to explore their environment and answer simple problem solving questions. An example: light up toy stopped making sounds so the child hits the button again or gets attention from adult when toy stops.
Play then moves to the Symbolic level.
First children begin using familiar objects functionally toward themselves or others. Example: pretend feeling self, parent, and/or doll using real spoon.
Then they will begin to use other objects to represent ("symbolize") another object. Example: using rectangular thin block as a "phone" and holding it up to ear.
Research shows that Symbolic Play helps develop language more effectively than Functional Play.
Speech and Language Therapy for young children will often look like play. Speech Language Pathologists help guide your child through the developmental steps of play and incorporate language at each step. Research suggests that a child's language can be scaffolded and supported by asking questions, providing meaning feedback, and using wait time to allow children with the opportunity to respond.
Play is not only wonderful tool for therapy but also a key part of development.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, play therapy may be a great tool!