The Power of PLAY
Meghan Griesemer is a PLAY Project Center parent, advocate and author of this parent-to-parent blog
How did I go from the depths of despair – unable to connect with my own son due to autism – to seeing him thrive and feeling hopeful about the future? The answer is simple: the PLAY Project.
My son’s early intervention team at The Childhood League Center in Columbus, Ohio encouraged me to give the PLAY (Play and Learning for Autistic Youngsters) Project a try. I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. I didn’t think this was serious enough, somehow, to be a treatment plan. I fell in the camp of moms who thought flash cards, shapes, puzzles, etc. were the answer. But for children, play is serious learning.
Shortly after my son’s diagnosis, I had the opportunity to see Dr. Richard Solomon, the founder of PLAY Project, speak about this autism intervention and how it works. I was blown away.
They say seeing is believing. When I saw footage of the PLAY Project techniques in action, I was convinced and deeply moved to the point of tears. It was beautiful to see the moment when a child and parent connect. It had me in awe, like I was watching footage from the first moon landing for the first time. They said it couldn’t be done. I was seeing the impossible.
Dr. Solomon has put together the pieces of the autism puzzle. Rules are meant to be broken, and puzzles are meant to be solved. After seeing how my son has blossomed and progressed phenomenally over the course of the past year and a half that we’ve utilized the PLAY Project, I’m more convinced than ever that this is the answer. And not for just my son — for every child, at any place on the autism spectrum.
Dr. Solomon says if we do what the child loves, the child will love being with us. Rule number one of PLAY: “focus on fun”. That is why we follow the child’s lead. When a child is having a great time with people, they are building new neural connections that will help his or her overall brain development. Intervening early amplifies this impact.
The PLAY Project autism intervention establishes a back and forth interaction between the child and the parent or caregiver. Once the child can be more social at home, this will begin to translate to their interactions with peers. As the process continues, the brain transforms, new neural pathways are established, and the worrisome traits of ASD begin to subside.
It’s worth every bit of time and effort — and it’s fun.
With the PLAY Project, you get back what you put in. Developmental progress happens steadily over time, but there is an immediate gratification as well. When I see my son giggle and laugh, that’s how I know its working and that I’m challenging him at the appropriate level. It doesn’t take months of failed attempts or repetitive trials. It’s simple. Parents engage in fun interactions with their hard-to-engage children for two hours every day. I think of PLAY as medicine, and as Dr. Solomon says, the dose (the amount of time spent) matters. As Mr. Rogers, one of my personal heroes, once said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
Don’t make the same mistake I almost made of dismissing the power of the PLAY Project.
It is a serious program that takes time and effort on the part of parents and caregivers. The power of PLAY is perfectly logical — children with ASD have difficulty engaging socially, so parents give them as many positive interactions with people as possible. Through the capability of neuroplasticity, these interactions cause the brain to reorganize itself into a better-connected network.
So what does that ultimately mean for you and your child? It means more hugs and kisses, laughs and hugs, communication and progress. It means a closer relationship. It means a new, wider world for your child. It means they will have a better capacity for learning. It means they will know how much they are loved. So stop hoping, start believing, because PLAY works!