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These observations are made from the most recent comprehensive meta-analytic literature review of published play therapy research (Bratton, Ray & Rhine, 2005).
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common kinds of mental health concerns in children and adolescents. Anxiety can best be described as "worrying" or being "scared." Anxiety disorders generally fall into one of these categories:
Children may become sad, tired, "bored," or seem to be having a bad day from time to time. Usually when the child becomes engaged in an activity, the feelings seem to pass in a short period of time. However, when these feelings persist and keep the child from going about his or her regular day, clinical depression may be the cause of the "moodiness." Depression is said by the federal Center for Mental Health Services to present in about one in every 33 children. That figure would mean that just about every classroom of children would have one child that was clinically depressed. Depression can lead to low achievement, social isolation, and problems getting along with friends and family. Depressed children can take their own lives. Once the child has had a serious period of time with clinical depression, the child is at risk for serious depression again over the next five year. Most depressed children become depressed adults.
The child may have serious depression if more than one of these following behaviors last more than two weeks:
Long term depression can result in very poor self-concept. Depression is treatable. Play therapy has been found in eight (8) of nine (9) studies to be show significant improvement. In some cases, your pediatrician may prescribe medication and support therapy. Play therapy is one form of support therapy that has been used to treat depression.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Problems with attention and activity levels are one of the major reasons children are referred to mental health services. In the average school classroom, one to two students will have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Boys are more likely to have this disorder, but both boys and girls may have ADHD. The child with ADHD may just seem to never pay attention, may seem to do something without thinking or may do both of these.
Parents and other adults may notice that these children may have problems with some of the following things: following directions, completing a job, losing things, forgetting things, make careless mistakes, seems disorganized. These are problems with attention. The behavior problems may include: seems to be constantly moving, running, climbing; talks a lot; cannot play quietly alone; interrupts other people; cannot wait his or her turn; and may get into someone else's space.
Autism or Pervasive Developmental Disorder
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (PL105-17), which uses the term "autism," defines the disorder as "a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, usually evident before age 3, that adversely affects a child's educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences."
Play therapy has been found in two of the two studies done in this area of childhood disorders to be an effective adjunct when paired with traditional structured treatment of autism.
Play Therapy and Academic/Social Developmental Issues
A broad range of childhood problems can be successfully treated with play therapy. These areas of child development do not clearly fall within the definition of disorders; although they are problems associated with concerns about human development. Specifically, these developmental issues that have been found to be influenced by play therapy are:
These disorders describe children who may have many physical problems that may interfere with their daily lives and academic progress. Among those studied were those who had problems with motor skills, skin viruses, allergies, hearing disabilities, speech problems, and general learning disabilities. All eight (8) of these studies showed improvement in one or more areas.
Conduct disorder is best described as the child that physically hurts others and destroys property. Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) may be the beginning of conduct disorder. ODD is diagnosed when the child refuses to mind one or more people. These two diagnoses do not occur at the same time. Between the ages nine (9) and 17, about 1-4 percent of children may be diagnosed with conduct disorder. The diagnosis is more common for boys than girls; and more common in cities than in rural areas. Symptoms of children with conduct disorder may include:
Children with conduct disorder or ODD have some of these symptoms:
Play therapy in all eight (8) studies dealing with conduct disorder, aggression, and oppositional defiant disorder noted a decrease in aggression and an increased ability to express feelings appropriately.
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