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Play Therapy for Cerebral Palsy: The Power of Fun

understanding play therapy for cerebral palsy

There are many benefits to participating in play therapy for cerebral palsy.

Play is associated with stress relief and care-free fun.

It’s an essential component of development in children as it allows them to be creative and explore freely.

Through this article, you’ll learn how children with cerebral palsy can benefit from play therapy. Let’s start!

What is Play Therapy?

play therapy for cp

The Association for Play Therapy defines play therapy as:

“the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”

Rather than verbally communicating, young children often express themselves through their actions and behaviors.

Play therapy teaches children to understand the connection between their actions, thoughts, and emotions.

A certified play therapist helps guide and observe the behaviors your child demonstrates as they play.

It is effective because it allows kids to be kids and simply play.

When you put children in a traditional physical or occupational therapy setting, they think of it as exercise.

In contrast, when you put a child in a play therapy setting where they are surrounded by toys and told to do whatever they want, any sort of intimidation or pressure is lifted, and the child can just focus on having fun.

Rather than something they have to do, play therapy is something they want to do.

Behavioral Observation Through Play Therapy

We often don’t realize how much our actions are affected by our surrounding environment.

Children tend to subconsciously reenact traumatic or stressful events through play.

For example, children who lived during the Holocaust used to play “Gas Chamber” or “Burial” and pretend to be guards and prisoners.

The high-stress, emotionally draining events embedded a constant state of fear in their minds, which was translated into play.

By watching children play, you can also get a good understanding of how they’re feeling at home or at school.

For example, if a child is demonstrating violence through play, it may indicate inner frustration or pent up aggression.

Complications of Cerebral Palsy that Affect Play Therapy

motor impairments affecting ability to participate in play therapy

Children with cerebral palsy may not be able to move their arms and legs as much as they’d like during play therapy.

However, it’s important to encourage your child to explore and try to engage as much as they can so that they can develop a sense of independence.

If you try to recreate the environment at home, do not be overly accommodating and pick toys up for them. Let your child figure things out on their own.

A large part of play therapy is understanding the connection between your actions and feelings, as well as verbally communicating them.

Children with cerebral can have oral motor impairments, where they cannot control the muscles in the mouth.

This makes it difficult to speak and can increase feelings of frustration.

Through play therapy, children can learn how to better express and manage these negative feelings.

Benefits of Play Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

child at play therapy for cerebral palsy with doll

Benefits of play therapy for cerebral palsy include improved:

  • Fine motor skills
  • Sensory coordination
  • Creativity
  • Cognition
  • Self-esteem
  • Communication
  • Decision-making
  • Psychological state (reduced anxiety and depression)
  • Behavior

Play therapy is ideal for children between the ages of 3-12; however, teenagers and adults can also participate and benefit from it.

What to Expect in a Play Therapy Session

In a play therapy session, your child will have a large variety of toys and activities laid out in front of them.

They’ll be encouraged to play with whatever they want, and from there, the play therapist will observe and adapt the session to your child’s individual needs.

Behavioral and communication problems cannot be fixed in one or two sessions.

Multiple sessions will be required as your child builds a trusting relationship with the play therapist and learns to adopt new behaviors.

Check out the video below to see play therapy in action!

Play therapy allows you to see the world from the child’s perspective.

Did you notice how the play therapist allows the child to make their own decisions and verbally explains what the child is doing and feeling?

Play therapists help children understand what they’re feeling so that instead of acting out, they can learn to explain what they’re feeling through speech.

Play Therapy for Cerebral Palsy: Key Points

Play therapy helps improve communication skills, cognitive skills, gross motor skills, and fine motor skills.

It encourages your child to think, explore, socialize, and move around in a fun way where they’re in control of their environment.

Furthermore, it will help parents understand what their children are feeling but aren’t necessarily saying.

Play therapy is effective because a certified play therapist guides the session, identifies problematic behaviors, and then offers helpful resources and advice.

That’s a wrap! Hopefully, this article opened your eyes to the power of play and how it can be used to promote better behavior, thinking, and mobility.

Keep It Going: See Fun Ways to Recover from Cerebral Palsy

Finally! There’s a recovery device for CP that’s actually fun to use. See how Flint Rehab’s tools are helping with CP recovery:

“The FitMi and MusicGlove have done wonders for my son with hemiparesis from cerebral palsy and stroke. It motivates him to do his exercises. It does not seem like therapy for him since it is fun. It monitors his progress so it is a great reinforcement for him. Music is a motivator for him. He has been using it on his arm and we will try the leg exercises soon.”

FitMi works by motivating high repetition of therapeutic exercises while playing an engaging game. This gamification has been particularly great for motivating individuals with cerebral palsy to recover.

To see how FitMi works, click here »