Should PLAY be a goal? Or an activity?

by Adina Levy

What is the role of play in therapy for autistic children?

This is a question that comes up time and time again. Many of us have done training over the years to learn about how to “teach play”.

In my podcast episode ‘The Role of ‘Play’ in Speech Therapy for Autistic Children’ I share my thoughts about whether PLAY should be a goal, or whether it should be a context for other kinds of interaction and learning goals.

Here’s the short version – I don’t think we therapists should have ‘play’ goals for autistic kids… Hot take? Maybe!

A neurodiversity affirming approach to offering support for autistic or neurodivergent people is all about honouring the way that each individual chooses to play, explore, and interact with their world.

Play doesn’t have to look a certain way.

Play doesn’t have to follow a developmental trajectory.

Play has to be fun, engaging, enjoyable

If the fun and enjoyment stops, then it’s not play anymore.

Now I used to write speech therapy goals for kids that included them learning to do a new type of play or a different type of play. I haven’t done that for quite some time, and here’s why:

I don’t see that play is the end point or the goal. The moment that we write down play goals, we as therapists or as parents advocating for our kids are stepping away from the idea that all play is OK. We move towards a feeling of pressure and needing to encourage or teach or show that a child should interact with toys, with activities in a certain way.

Golly I have so many more thoughts about play – if you’re curious, I hope you’ll listen in to my 12 minute podcast episode ‘The Role of ‘Play’ in Speech Therapy for Autistic Children’

A quick note for Speech Therapists who are keen to learn more specifics about what Neurodiversity Affirming Assessment and Therapy looks like for Autistic Children Check out my course Affirming Communication for Autistic Children to learn more!

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