What is Theraplay?

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My 18-year old daughter has a mild learning disability along with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). She does not socialize easily or spend time with her peers. She spends a great deal of time in her bedroom watching TV alone despite my efforts to include her in family life. Ellen is uncomfortable with touch and physical contact. This problem has contributed to her lack of physical and social interaction with others.

I completed the Level One Theraplay training as part of my professional work, but I also considered the possible benefits that Theraplay might bring to my daughter. I headed home with a plan to try to engage Ellen in some of the games we had played in the training.

I introduced Theraplay to Ellen in an unstructured way, giving her the opportunity to explore the list of games I “needed to practice”. I suggested that we play cotton ball hockey. We had a great deal of fun, and surprisingly, Ellen relaxed and allowed me to hold her hands. I soon found Ellen keen to practice new games, so I helped her stand on an increasingly tall stack of pillows. She allowed me to assist her in climbing and balancing as the stack grew taller.

I also wanted to encourage Ellen to maintain eye contact, so we held hands, stood face-to-face and I signaled her to move left or right with the direction of my eye blinks. Ellen clearly found this activity difficult to do, often breaking eye contact, but re-engaging with my encouragement to see where to go next.

After a great deal of fun and giggling, Ellen stated she would like me to do the manicure activity. I was quite taken aback by her request but grabbed the opportunity as this is a very intimate activity and probably the last one I expected Ellen to choose.  While applying the lotion to Ellen’s hands, we checked for hurts and observed the lines on her palms. I was surprised to hear Ellen say that she would be happy for me to do this activity every day if I wished.

Ellen describes the Theraplay experiences we share as “fun and relaxing”. Theraplay has created invaluable opportunities for my daughter and me to re-engage physically and have fun. We continue to enjoy the different Theraplay activities several times each week. Ellen now enjoys having the lotion applied to her arms as well as her hands. I would not have believed this possible until now. I have found that Ellen instigates physical touch more frequently and she is more relaxed in accepting hugs too.

Until my introduction to Theraplay, I struggled to successfully engage Ellen in physically intimate and challenging ways. Now, I can truly say that Theraplay has shown me ways to engage with children irrespective of age, ability or needs.


*Note:  These Theraplay stories are all told by real clients, but their names are being withheld or changed to protect their privacy.