Supporting Children with Special Needs through Play
Play is incredibly valuable for all children, but having special needs can present barriers which may make it difficult for them to fully enjoy the experience. The needs of little ones vary a lot, so it’s often down to you, the parent or carer, to understand the challenges and adapt to your individual child.
It’s really important to avoid losing play value in favour of accessibility; simply being able to do something isn’t what makes it enjoyable. Just remember to focus on what your child can do, rather than what they can’t, when planning play time. Play should be freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated – in other words, a child with special needs might need a little support, but they also need the freedom to decide what to play and how to go about it.
Importance of Play for Children with Special Needs
Play has numerous benefits for children with special needs. It can help them develop essential skills, such as social, cognitive, emotional, and physical skills. Additionally, play can be used to support specific difficulties that your child might have.
For example, if your child has a hearing or visual impairment, play can help them strengthen their other senses, such as touch or smell, to help them explore and interact with the world around them. Sensory play, in particular, can be a great way to stimulate different senses and promote cognitive and physical development.
The Importance of Freely Chosen Play
It’s important to remember that play should be freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated. This means that your child should have the freedom to decide what to play and how to play, with some support from you as needed. While it’s important to adapt play to your child’s individual needs, it’s equally important not to lose the play value in favour of accessibility. The goal is to help your child enjoy play while also promoting their learning and development.
Benefits of Sensory Play
Sensory play can be particularly beneficial for children with special needs. Sensory play involves exploring different materials and textures using various senses, such as touch, smell, sight, and sound. Some benefits of sensory play for children with special needs include:
- Cognitive development: Sensory play can help children understand how things work, compare the characteristics of different materials, and develop problem-solving skills.
- Social skills: Sensory play can help children observe how others play, copy and share ideas, and learn to play cooperatively with others.
- Self-awareness: Sensory play can help children learn what materials they like and don’t like, increasing their understanding of themselves.
- Physical development: Sensory activities can be a good workout for the small muscles in their hands and fingers, improving their fine motor control and coordination.
- Emotional development: Sensory play can be a good way for children to release energy or stress and express positive feelings.
- Communication skills: Sensory play provides opportunities for children to express their reactions to materials, such as showing excitement at splashing water or surprise when experiencing something new.
Tips for Adapting Play to Your Child’s Needs
When adapting play to your child’s needs, it’s important to consider their strengths, challenges, and interests. Here are some tips to help you adapt play to your child’s individual needs:
- Use their interests: If your child has a specific interest, incorporate it into their play to encourage their engagement and participation.
- Be mindful of sensory sensitivities: If your child has sensory sensitivities, introduce new materials gradually and be aware of materials they don’t like or are uncomfortable with.
- Make play accessible: If your child has a mobility impairment, make sure play areas and materials are accessible and easy for them to use.
- Provide guidance: If your child has difficulty with social skills, provide guidance and support to help them interact with other children and develop relationships.
- Encourage imagination: If your child has difficulty with imaginative play, encourage their creativity and help them develop new ideas.
Play is an essential part of children’s learning and development, and it’s particularly important for children with special needs. By adapting play to your child’s individual needs, you can help them enjoy the benefits of play while promoting