We’re once again exploring the world of alternative therapies for children, mainly art, music and play. While the idea of employing these with adults seems a little preposterous (although, they have a place!), these therapies are almost non-negotiable for kids. There are many reasons why, but we’ll leave those details to the expert: Dr. Robert Jason Grant, Registered Play Therapist and Certified Autism Specialist

Share a little about the therapies you offer

I have a private practice in a suburb of Springfield, Missouri, where I see a variety of ages, but I mostly work with children and adolescents. In addition to being a Registered Play Therapist, I am also a Certified Autism Specialist and 75% of my clients are children with autism or a developmental disorder.

As such, I offer AutPlay Therapy—a play therapy treatment protocol for children with autism that addresses the more common issues that come with the diagnosis. It’s a family approach and therefore, I work with the child and family members and caregivers.

What is the role these types of therapies play with hospitalized children? Why are they so effective?

Children with developmental disorders are often in and out of the hospital and it usually doesn’t go well because they typically experience a lot of anxiety. Giving these children the opportunity to play through their anxiety and questions is so helpful and important—whether it’s an outpatient situation or long-term.

Through play, children may ask questions or reveal thoughts and worries that they previously didn’t voice. Play therapy helps children process and gives them the opportunity to work through their fears.

What are some of your tried and true methods?

With play therapy, you can get specific if you know what the child is concerned about. I like to do a procedure call Replays, created by Karen Levine. It entails role playing through a procedure in a fun and exaggerated way until the child is comfortable and participating. I have the child play every role involved—as themselves, the doctor, the parent, etc.

I also use picture books and utilize parental involvement, which is always helpful for the duration of treatment.

What are some other therapy methods you practice?

Bibliotherapy is the incorporation of books, stories and other narratives about what the child is about to experience. It helps children understand what others have gone through and normalizes the process for them. The selfesteemshop.com is a great resource for finding these types of books.

Anything else you'd like to share?

When I was coming up in my profession there were very few child life specialists on staff in hospitals and typically if there were budget cuts, this position would be one of the first to go. It’s important that hospitals put an emphasis on play therapy and child life in general. It’s simply good practice to also address the emotional needs of the child patient.

What we want to do is help children in every aspect of their hospital experience. What I often see on the outpatient/clinic end, after a hospital stay or even a dentist or doctor visit, is a trauma response. Children will associate that trauma with any future visits, so it’s important to understand how play therapy can help prevent this from happening.