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The Power of Play

By Alexis Ecoff, FSP Clinical Director, LMFT

5 reasons play therapy helps neurodivergent children thrive

For neurodivergent children, verbal communication and social cues may feel unnatural — and that can make traditional therapies difficult or uncomfortable.

Enter play. This intuitive language of childhood — a language of exploration, expression, and making sense of the world — becomes an accessible connection point. By harnessing its power, therapists can guide neurodivergent children more effectively toward lasting growth, development, and emotional well-being.

But what makes play so powerful?

  1. Play empowers the child. Children get to lead the therapeutic process at their own paces and comfort levels, which is particularly helpful if they struggle with verbal communication or with expressing their emotions. The safe and non-threatening nature of play gives children a freedom that encourages self-expression, emotional regulation and resilience.
  2. Play integrates sensory experiences. Whether through tactile activities, proprioceptive exercises, or visual and auditory stimuli, play therapy helps neurodivergent children regulate their sensory experiences. This practice equips them to grow more comfortable and engaged with their surroundings.
  3. Play develops social skills. Play naturally promotes practice and development of skills such as understanding social cues, maintaining eye contact, or engaging in reciprocal communication. Therapists use structured play and guided interventions to help children learn turn-taking, sharing, empathy, and other essential skills that help them navigate social interactions and build meaningful relationships. 
  4. Play teaches emotional expression and regulation. In this safe space, neurodivergent children get room to explore and process complex emotions, rather than melting down, shutting down, or acting out. Role-play, storytelling, art and symbolic play help children externalize and make sense of their feelings in developmentally appropriate manners. Then, therapists can guide them in identifying coping strategies and building emotional resilience.
  5. Play bends to the needs of the child. One-size-fits-all therapy doesn’t work for neurodivergent children. Therapists can tailor play interventions to accommodate the unique preferences, goals, interests and sensory profiles of a child.

And perhaps the most obvious thing about play therapy: it’s fun. When we translate the language of therapy into the language of play, we help neurodivergent children make real, meaningful progress — in a way that makes them want to participate. What better way to help neurodivergent children thrive than to let them play? Want to learn more about play therapy? Reach out to Pariva’s clinicians.

Pariva Health Admin