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Play and Severe Communication Disorders

Author-Avatar heatherR

11/5/2019 4:39 PM

As clinicians/therapists/students/parents working with individuals with severe communication deficits, we strive to identify functional goals for communication.  Requesting help, knowing personal information, answering basic questions and communicating to share enjoyment is essential in the quality of life.  However, I pose this question to anyone working with/living with an individual having severe communication deficits: how often is play a focus of your session/schedule/routine?  My initial guess is that play (of all forms) is not a consistent focus in the development of communication skills.  After all, let’s face it, without meaningful language to help facilitate play, it can be difficult to incorporate and target play skills.

After working for 17 years in the outpatient setting at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and specializing in severe communication/behavior based diagnoses, I have come to understand that targeting play skills can be hard. However, as difficult as it can be to play, it is an incredibly important developmental area to address.

In the following series of posts I will: Identify skills and activities noted in the following levels of the Communication Matrix:
o  I  Preintentional Behavior
o II Intentional Behavior
o III  Unconventional Communication
o IV  Conventional Communication

Prior to the next post in this series, I ask that you identify one individual that you live, work, teach who demonstrates limited play skills/play repertories and does have a severe communication deficit.  Begin to observe the individual from a “play/leisure” perspective.  When that individual is left on their own, what do they do to occupy their time?  The answer cannot be, “nothing”!  Everyone is doing something: i.e., is the individual tapping their fingers on a table tray, pacing around the room, bouncing in their seat, twirling string, hitting themselves on their legs, etc. 

Keep those observations close, as we will revisit those observations in a future post.

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