Play is the Work of Childhood

OT patient jumps into ball pit while wearing headphones

OT child jumps into ball pit while while engaging in Therapeutic Listening

Children play because they like it.  Parents are content to watch their children play together with others or alone.  As long as a child is playing, everything is well with the world. It may seem prosaic, but there are infinite benefits to play during childhood.  Below is a short list to begin the discussion.

  • Improves Mental Health
    • Builds confidence and self esteem
    • Motivates
    • Inspires
    • Improves learning
  • Promotes Socialization
    • Language
    • Cooperation
    • Give-and-take
    • Friendships
  • Builds Body
    • Coordination
    • Balance
    • Strength

Pediatric Occupational Therapy employs play as the foundation for all therapeutic endeavors.  It is a successful model for therapy in that the child is motivated to perform the assigned tasks and wants to please the therapist. Results are believable and incremental providing progress benchmarks for therapist and parents.

“Treatment for SPD typically involves occupational therapy (OT), which resembles playtime to parents watching an OT session for the first time.” according to Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation

The play loft/tree house of OT equipment is a play area and each session becomes a chance for the OT child to demonstrate progress in a particular sensory category. Sensory input can be carefully controlled for each child. For example, a child needing sensory input can swing in the hammock or jump into the ball pit.

Sensory testing can provide valuable feedback of symptoms.  After completing a normalization session in which the child becomes familiar and comfortable with his/her sensory condition, new sensory input can be provided to help calibrate limits of tolerance. ( Similar to when your eyes are tested for nearsightedness or farsightedness, you simply say whether the new input level is better or worse. )

In an article of Dallas, Fort Worth, Northtexas Child online news magazine, Sally Fryer says “. . . kids hang in hammock swings, throwing beanbags into baskets or pitching plastic balls at bowling pins. It looks like play, but it has another purpose: When absorbed in a game, the child learns to deal with previously dreaded situations.”

“The therapy helps establish and strengthen pathways in the mind (read ‘synaptic pathways in the brain’) that allow a child to overcome previously feared activities,” says Fryer. “For instance, if a child has tactile [touch] sensory issues, therapy will involve exercising the tactile nervous system, requiring the body to slowly learn how to more efficiently send information about touch to the brain.”

Once a child shows progress, the OT can instruct the parents as to ways to improve their child’s sensory diet based on proven therapies.  For the rest of childhood, play and playful sensory curricula  can improve/mitigate sensory processing symptoms and provide the grown-up client with self-regulation strategies for the rest of his/her life.

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About Emily Lauren

Jenny Clark, OTR/L, BCP (AOTA Board Certification in Pediatrics), is a licensed pediatric occupational therapist with over 22 years experience working as a school-based occupational therapist, independent contractor for early intervention services, private practitioner, speaker, consultant, author, and inventor. Jenny currently owns a pediatric therapy private practice, Jenny’s Kids, Inc. Jenny Clark Jenny is the author of the best-selling book on sensory processing entitled Learn to Move, Move to Learn: Sensorimotor Early Childhood Activity Themes(AAPC 2004), (Starter Kit available) More recently Ms Clark has written a sequel Learn to Move, Moving Up! Sensorimotor Elementary School Activity Themes (AAPC 2009). In addition, she has published two DVD’s Learn to Move: Dinosaurs (AAPC 2005), a companion to her first book, and Sensory Processing Disorder Kit: Simulations and Solutions for Parents, Teachers, and Therapists (AAPC 2006), which won the 2007 media in excellence video award from Autism Society of America. Jenny’s newest publication is a music CD, Sing, Move, Learn (AAPC 2010), which accompanies the songs in her first book. Ms. Clark is a contributing author for the book Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Handbook for Parents and Professionals (Greenwood Publishing Group 2007), as well as a chapter author for Autism Spectrum Disorders: Foundations, Characteristics, and Effective Strategies. (Pearson Publishing 2011 by Boutot & Myles). Jenny is the inventor of the Patent-Pending “Weigh” Cool Bracelet. Jenny has spoken both nationally and internationally on a variety of topics, including sensory integration/processing. She received her bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy and graduated with distinction from the University of Kansas.
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