Play Therapy Dramatically Improves Lives of Autistic Children

Autistic boy playing with teddy bear

A recent trial shows parents can dramatically reduce their autistic children’s symptoms by just playing with them. But the key to the new autism treatment is to intervene early and on a constant basis.

Autism is a developmental disorder which affects about 1 percent of the underage population. Autistic children lack or have limited social skills and encounter huge difficulties in communicating.

The condition can affect the individual through adulthood as there are very few treatments for it. But recent research suggests parents can make a huge difference in their kids’ lives as a new play therapy is proven to yield long-term results.

The Trial

The study involved several dozen families with autistic children from the U.K. Children and their parents were followed for six years. Researchers found that training parents on how to communicate with their children at a very young age can dramatically reduce autism symptoms.

The effects persisted through the entire follow-up period.

Several experts hailed the new therapy as the world’s first autism treatment with a sustained improvement. In addition, experts are confident the new ‘cure’ could improve the lives of tens of thousands of kids worldwide.

The approach is the first to lead to a long-term effect after an early intervention. Researchers at University of Manchester, Newcastle University, and King’s College London found the therapy benefited kids between ages of two to four the most.

Scientists said parents must intervene within this timeframe for maximum results. Children whose parents participated in the trial saw their social communication skills get better and their repetitive behaviors dwindle.

Furthermore, lead author Jonathan Green said the new play therapy aims at improving parent-home communication. The research team trained parents to do this in their own homes. Other therapies, such as those involving a therapist does not impact the everyday lives of the patients.

Green deemed the findings “encouraging” as the condition is usually “very resistant to change.” Nevertheless, the researchers noted that they haven’t found a “cure.” This means that autistic children will display some remaining symptoms.

But parents can contribute to improving those symptoms over the long-term.

The Therapy

The new therapy is different from previous approaches because it focuses on involving parents. Researchers filmed parents while they communicated and played with their children.

Next, therapists provided precious tips and feedback based on those videos. As a result, many parents significantly increased their awareness to their kids’ unusual and less direct ways of communication.

So, they were able to communicate back in a constructive manner earning their kids’ trust. One researcher pointed out that behind the “unusualness” the messages are the same as those coming from any other child.

Parents took part in the trial one months. Six months they got involved in therapy sessions and six months they only took part in support sessions. Parents played and communicated responsibly with their children about 30 minutes per day.

The findings appeared Wednesday in the British medical journal The Lancet.

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