Treating Children Impacted by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) with Play Therapy

V4-I3-PlayTherapy-FSTThis article is from Volume 4, Issue 3 of Forensic Scholars Today, a quarterly publication featuring topics from the world of forensic mental health. Click to view or save a PDF of this article.

Play Therapy: An Introduction

Play therapy has strong benefits for many children. The therapeutic value of play knows no boundaries culturally, diagnostically, or linguistically. Gary Landreth has been widely referenced for his statement “toys are children’s words and play their language.” Based on clinical experience, I am able to see a child’s play as one of the most important and advantageous opportunities they have every day. During play, a child is able to make their own decisions and experience more natural consequences for their decisions. These decisions allow their horizons to broaden and thinking to expand and become more abstract. Whether a child has words or the ability to express themselves verbally is not a requirement of play. The power lies within the child, and when provided an opportunity to promote playfulness, oftentimes, the end result is connectedness. Through play, a child begins to learn trust, positive coping strategies, and the ability to express their feelings. As such, play therapy may be a powerful therapeutic approach to consider using with children impacted by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Play Therapy

FASD can result in a host of deficits and impairments, including impulsivity and emotional dysregulation. Play therapy provides a realm to safely allow a child to connect with an adult. Play therapy encourages the social-emotional development of a child as they learn empathy, cooperation, and how to negotiate their environment. During play, the child with FASD is able to use their curiosity to pursue skills important to their developing mind. As a result of maternal alcohol use during the fetal stages of development, parts of the brain can become underdeveloped. Play therapy allows therapists to engage with children impacted by prenatal alcohol exposure at the lowest point of their brain nearest the brain stem. Allowing for the brain to begin growing and developing positive neural paths through playful interactions. Click here to see some beneficial therapeutic play activities to use with children with FASD!

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