Play Therapy for Children with Autism

Play Therapy is a form of therapy that extensively uses play activities and toys to explore and improve various psychological issues. It is mainly used with children since it uses objects and activities that are more relatable to their real-life everyday experiences. Hence, they do not feel like they are in a watchful medical or professional setting since they get to play as they do at home.

There are two ways in which therapists usually practice play therapy :

  • Object Play – Object Play involves children’s interaction with toys. They may explore(eg: cars), manipulate(eg: clay) or construct objects( eg: building blocks). This particular play helps with sensorimotor skills such as looking, feeling and throwing objects. It also includes how children can relate to objects in different ways.
  • Pretend Play – Once the child is older than a year, they can also engage in symbolic play where they can pretend for an object to be something else and then engage with it. For instance, using a pencil as an airplane and making it fly. Pretend play also includes when the child assumes different roles and engages in the imagination of a different setting and time. For eg: the child takes the role of a doctor and imagines he is in a clinic. Pretend play mostly occurs in a group setting, where each child takes on a different role and then they interact with each other.


Through observation of the child’s play behavior, both object and pretend, the therapist or counselor can decipher which vital skills have not yet been developed for the child. Following this, they can use specific types of play to help improve those very skills. For example, if a therapist notices that a child is extremely aggressive towards his peers, they may make him more involved in pretend play settings that involve sharing and compassion.

Play therapy improves a child’s mental health as it gives them a safe space to explore their feelings with their counselor, even though they may not overtly realize it. Through different games, a child can work on their coping strategies. Playing in a group helps with refining decision-making skills. Such vital skills are built through play and then are fine-tuned through more real-world situations.


Russ, S.W. (2003). Play in Child Development and Psychotherapy: Toward Empirically Supported Practice (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781410609397

Fisch, S. M. (2013). Cross‐platform learning: On the nature of children’s learning from multiple media platforms. New directions for child and adolescent development, 2013(139), 59-70.

Allen, L., Kelly, B. B., Committee on the Science of Children Birth to Age 8: Deepening and Broadening the Foundation for Success, Board on Children, Youth, and Families, Institute of Medicine, & National Research Council (Eds.). (2015). Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. National Academies Press (US).

Weisberg D. S. (2015). Pretend play. Wiley interdisciplinary reviews. Cognitive science, 6(3), 249–261. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcs.1341

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