Updated: Apr 10, 2022
April is a special time of the year as it is Autism awareness month. To kick it off, I have a very special announcement to make. I, Fecha Yap have completed my certification in AutPlay®! I am available to work with children ages 3 to 16 on the autism spectrum, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, social anxiety, sensory issues, and developmental and physical disabilities.
What is AutPlay® Therapy?
AutPlay® Therapy was created by Dr. Robert Jason Grant to be an integrative family play therapy approach to help address the mental health needs of neurodivergent children ages 3 to 18 years old.
You might be curious about what the term neurodivergent means. It is a word that we start to see more often as scientists begin to understand how our brains function. The term is used to describe people and children whose brains function differently in one or more ways than is considered standard or typical.
I'm going to share with you a case where AutPlay® therapy became very useful in helping a child I work with. Michael, 5, was diagnosed with autism, a speech, and sensory processing disorder. He is non-verbal and has a great deal of difficulty concentrating and listening in school. His teachers would say he is fidgety, that he got distracted easily, he was unfocused, and would often have meltdowns or tantrums out of the blue.
He would play alone, had low self-esteem, and was sensitive to certain touches and sounds. Michael's pediatrician suggested that he go on medication, however, his parents wanted to find an alternative solution. And so Michael's parents enrolled him in Play Therapy while he attended occupational and speech therapy. After a little while, Michael's parents stopped his speech therapy sessions as he would always leave them upset.
AutPlay® therapy in action and why it works.
Completing my AutPlay therapy program was tremendously helpful. At the beginning of my sessions with Michael, I got to know him and familiarise myself with his parent's parenting style. We discussed some goals and it was important to his parents that Michael worked towards being verbal and be able to enjoy school and life. Michael's parents were concerned that he was not socializing with other children and keeping up with the curriculum. They tried their best to help Michael but to no avail.
During our AutPlay® Therapy sessions, I decided that I would let Michael be the "boss". I followed his instructions, letting him take the lead and at every chance let him know that all the activities he chose were important. For Michael, this experience was unique and different. I knew that he felt special as he was in complete control of his weekly Play Therapy sessions. I gave him a lot of respect in the activities he chose to do, and he also began to learn to respect himself. In one incident, the toy he was playing with broke. I encouraged him by letting him struggle with fixing the toy, I "reflected" verbally with each step to fixing the toy, showing that he was fully capable of understanding what I was saying and putting the toy back together.
When he fixed the toy, his eyes sparkled and he gave me a huge smile. I acknowledge his feelings, raising his self-esteem. I didn't praise him because I didn't want him to be dependent on my feedback, what I did instead was to help this child figure out for himself that his choices are important, and he deserved to be respected. The result was that he became more confident in what he wanted to do and become regulated. He was in control and his random meltdowns were reduced.
Once Michael became comfortable with working with me, I switched my style to more directive methods. I did this to work on some of Michael's skills in his day-to-day activities. This included things like teaching Michael how to eat by himself. Since Michael is on the spectrum, he needed a step-by-step approach to fully grasp the concept and many opportunities to practice his newly learned skills. Michael's parents had to also repeat the same language so we had the consistency for Michael to confidently eat on his own.
As our sessions progressed and we continued to work on our goals, he began to play with other children and concentrate on the activities at school since he was now able to execute the activity!
Sneak peek at what happens in an Autplay® playroom.
AutPlay® therapy empowers Parents.
AutPlay® has an element where Michael's parents are also involved in sessions. This gave Michael's parents a unique opportunity to connect and communicate with their child in a way that made sense to Michael. I supported these sessions with Michael's parents offering direction in their communication styles through play with Michael. I also gave his parents some guidelines on activities to do at home with Michael so that what was done in our playroom continued in a different setting, throughout his daily life.
We noticed that when Michael and his parents were playing together, Michael was beginning to say some words and initiate play with his parents. When he ran into a problem, like he couldn't fit a puzzle piece instead of having a tantrum, he would show his parent's the issue and listen to the steps to "fix" it.
As our sessions continued, Michael's parents noticed a change in his behaviour after some intensive weeks, they had become more gentle, patient, and privy to his needs, desires, and feelings. They were also surprised by how Michael was able to cope with situations that would normally lead to a tantrum or meltdown like an unexpected change in Michael's schedule. Michael was becoming more regulated and mindful.
AutPlay® therapy outcomes.
Children on the spectrum tend to lack executive functioning, and therefore they don't always have the concentration power to choose to focus on a task and they tend to repeat things. Therefore in the playroom, I was careful to support, validate and acknowledge each and every decision Michael made, giving him an intense satisfaction with every decision he made. This created a positive association and encouraged him to make more appropriate decisions. This exercising of his decision-making "muscles" had helped him develop the power to choose to focus and listen better.
Our wishes, wants, and needs are very closely related to our feelings. I helped Michael honor so many of his own wishes, wants, and needs in the playroom, even the negative ones, he began to become more aware of his own feelings, and respect them. He began speaking up and expressing his feelings, wants, and needs, in and out of the playroom. The frequency of his meltdowns was greatly reduced.
Regardless of whether his feelings were positive or negative, I made sure that he knew that those feelings were valid, legitimate, and acceptable. In addition, I "reflected" these expressions back to him for example saying things like "I can see that you love playing with this train set!" He gained a very conscious awareness of his emotions. That is, not only did he learn that his feelings are Ok, but he also gained an understanding of the depth of them.
He got into the habit of letting his feelings flow, he became comfortable with the emotional events in his life. We accomplished this through a play therapy technique called tracking. Now, remember at the start when I told you that Michael was non-verbal? He was starting to say things like "I am happy, are you angry?", " I want to eat McDonalds", "I want to play", "I like you" and "I want jelly". We noticed that his words were slowly emerging and therefore he required additional support from the speech therapist.
Over the past 9 months of play therapy sessions, Michael has transformed into a much happier and more relaxed child, with a great improvement in his academic performance and starting to mingle with his peers. Both he and his parents also developed a much healthier parent-child relationship. This is only the beginning of Michael's AutPlay® therapy journey, his goals are reviewed periodically with his parents and Michael (when possible). We continue to work on his social skills. In general how long a child needs Autplay® therapy truly depends on a number of factors. The higher the child’s needs, the more time is needed to work on goals.
Names have been changed to protect the identity of the child.