Children use play to learn about the world around them.
But children with autism are caught in their own world. The self-isolation impairs their ability to interact with others and function long term.
“Children with autism don’t learn the same way,” said Dr. Rick Solomon, a Ann Arbor, Mich., pediatrician who specializes in developmental and behavioral issues and is the founder of the PLAY Project. “If you don’t reverse the tendency, the outcomes are poor long term.”
On Nov. 6 and 7, Solomon will be in Tupelo to conduct a two-day workshop for professionals and parents of children with autism about play-based therapy, the theories behind it and how the PLAY Project coaches parents to use the techniques.
“There’s a huge rise in the number of children in the autism spectrum,” said Speech Pathologist Dana Hobby, who is on staff at the North Mississippi Medical Center’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Center and serves on the executive committee that organized the Tupelo workshop. “There’s not a lot of resources for parents and teachers.”
The treatment recommendation for children diagnosed on the autism spectrum is 25 hours of intensive therapy a week. In reality, most autistic kids get a fraction of that therapy because there aren’t enough therapists and the cost – between $40,000 and $60,000 annually – is prohibitive for most families.
Solomon started the PLAY Project in 2001 as a practical way to share the Floortime approach developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. It’s also known as DIR – developmental, individualized and relationship-based.
“The logical conclusion is to train the parents,” Solomon said.
At the Tupelo workshop, professionals and parents should be able to take away a good understanding of Greenspan’s model and strategies and techniques that can be used to put play into therapy.
Professionals would need to go through an intensive four-day seminar and a year to 18 months of follow-up work to become home consultants connected with the PLAY Project.
“Parents can begin to do intervention for their children,” Solomon said.
Parent Tricia Edmondson, who is part of the local committee that organized the workshop, has put play-based therapy to work.
When her twin boys, Cooper and Drew, were diagnosed with pervasive development disorder just before their third birthday, she and her husband Will went to a week-long workshop in a different play-based program.
“I was yearning for a way to help,” Edmondson said. “We had to get rid of the tears and find some laughter. Play was how we did that.”
Along with professional rehab services, the play therapy worked, bringing the boys from 3 year olds with few words to successful first-graders.
The play-based time started simply by taking advantage of what the boys were interested in, like throwing a ball, Edmondson said. It started with getting the boys to make eye contact before she’d throw the ball again.
The kids lead the way in the play-based sessions. The parents meet them where they are and respond in ways to encourage interaction.
Now the Edmondson boys have progressed to the point of imaginative play and are thriving in first grade. The parents are working with PLAY Project consultants to help the boys continue to progress with their language and relationship skills.
“It works, it really works,” Tricia Edmondson said.
There’s a growing body of research to back DIR and play-based approaches in helping kids thin the veil of autism.
“The main misconception is that the only proven therapy is ABA,” or applied behavioral analysis, Solomon said. “The therapies are very complementary.”
A 2007 study of 70 children in the PLAY Project, showed 66 percent made significant progress during the year where their parents were coached to provide play-based therapy.
The PLAY Project just received a $1.85 million National Institute for Mental Health grant for a three-year study to compare outcomes against community-standard therapy programs.
There’s no cure for autism, but Solomon has seen many children make great strides. A child with autism can be successful in a regular school classroom, but they’ll still probably retain certain quirks.
“You can be highly functional and still have quirks,” Solomon said.
Academically, the goal is to get children with autism to the point where they can function without help in a regular classroom.
“Socially, the goal is making friends,” Solomon said.
Play-based therapy is just one piece of the puzzle in treating autism, Solomon said.
It takes intensive intervention, using multiple types of therapies, and no one therapy works for every child.
“It’s hard work and it takes a long time,” Solomon said. “But there is hope.”
Contact Michaela Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org or (662) 678- 1599.
PLAY Project Workshop
When: 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Nov. 6 and 7
Where: First United Methodist Church in Tupelo
Presenter: Dr. Rick Solomon, developmental and behavioral pediatrician
What: Solomon will cover the concepts behind play-based therapy for children with autism, techniques and strategies and more
Who should come: Professionals and parents of children with autism
Cost: $75 for family members; $200 for professionals, who receive up to 12 hours of continuing education credit; $175 for groups of 5 or more.
Registration deadline: Oct. 26; no registrations accepted at the door
Call Ruthlyn Goree at (662) 377-7221
Learn more: www.playproject.org
What is the PLAY Project?
PLAY stands for Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters. To help children with autism get the intensive therapy time, the project trains and coaches parents in play-based therapy concepts using the Developmental, Individualized and Relationship approach, commonly known as Floortime, pioneered by Dr. Stanley Greenspan.
The PLAY Project is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., and has trained home consultants around the country. The closest home consultants affiliated with the PLAY Project are in Birmingham, Ala.
Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal