Monday, January 30, 2012

Electronics vs. Traditional Play: What the Therapist Thinks

I'm finally getting around to organizing my thoughts about the play saga going on around my house.  For those of you who missed it the first time around or just need a refresher, here's the link so you can get all caught up.

Today, I'm going to tell you what the therapist thinks of Lily's play skills.

First of all, this is from a speech therapist's point of view.

Second, this is a speech therapist who is not a fan of ABA, or applied behavioral analysis, a type of behavioral therapy that Lily receives.

And thirdly, this is her opinion and should not be taken as fact, or even 100% my opinion.

Here we go:

If electronics are not in the picture, Lily loves water play.  I really think she is part mermaid.  In fact, I may not have water play on the agenda for the day, but odds are good that she will find a source of water  and engage in some play whether I like it or not.

She also loves good old-fashioned horse play with her dad.  Lily is a rough and tumble kind of kid so she loves it when Ryan throws her on our bed or chases her around the house, only to grab her and tickle her.  I have tried these games with her myself but unfortunately, I am a poor substitute for her dad.

She loves being tickled in the armpits by her big sisters.

So, as you can see, the list of non-electronic play is rather short right now.

We are working to expand her play repertoire at the moment, something that will probably take a few months.

The speech therapist feels the main reason for this lack of play is that Lily no longer thinks of traditional play as fun.  She doesn't look at puzzles or balls or Legos or play-doh as enjoyable activities.

In short, she has lost the joy of play.

The speech therapist believes this disengagement from play is mostly the fault of ABA.

You see, one part of ABA is something called Discreet Trial Training, or DTT.  In very, very simple layman's terms, this means getting a child to complete a task, essentially for a reward.

Think of a mouse running through a maze to get to the cheese.  Does the mouse run the maze because he loves the maze?  No.  He's in it for the cheese.

So for the past year and a half, Lily has been engaged in DTT.  She has learned to do all kinds of things, like putting puzzles together, stacking blocks, feeding a baby doll, and the like.  But she has learned these things not because she likes doing them, but because once she completes the activity, she gets to choose something she wants to do.  In other words, something electronic, like the iPad or the clinic's touch screen computer.

Essentially, and possibly by default, Lily has learned that giving a baby doll a fake bottle or pouring a cup of tea is simply a task to complete, much like the maze is for the mouse.

What she hasn't learned is that some kids think feeding baby dolls, having a tea party or doing puzzles is actually fun.  These activities are play, in and of themselves.

The speech therapist thinks Lily doesn't think of these things as play, but rather as work.

And she believes that's the fault of DTT.

Do you see how she came to this conclusion?

Now our goal is to help Lily re-engage in some of these kinds of play, showing her that this is the play.  The reward is not the play.  I'm thinking of calling it Operation Restore the Joy.  Nice ring, don't you think?

I've been scouring Pinterest for ideas and spent last Friday at Wal-Mart picking up a few things that will hopefully capture Lily's attention and help us restore the joy of simple play.

And since I'm no dummy, I'm starting with water play, the most highly non-electronic motivating thing for her.

I'll keep you posted on how it's going - and hopefully, I'll write "What the Mom Thinks" tomorrow.

In the meantime, any thoughts to share?  I'd be interested to hear...


  1. I can totally see the speech therapist point however that being said ABA is supposed to evolve with your child. DDT is always how it is in the beginning. They need to learn the actual play skills then it can evolve into fun. My daughter has been doing 15-10hrs a week ABA for 4 years now. It started very structured but now she has the play skills and pretty much all DDT has been done away with and now she's learning to pretend play on her own and with friends. Talk to your ABA coordinator they should have good input. We do all the whole run of therapies too but I really feel strongly that ABA has helped my child come out of her own little world the most. She has made tremendous progress with it. Our speech therapist uses a lot of the ABA techniques. Its great to ask questions and keep your therapists informed of your concerns!. Your doin great mommy!!!!

    1. Thanks so much for your encouragement - and the comment! :) I agree with you - play skills have to be taught first, then evolve into fun. If you're in the neighborhood, stop in and read tomorrow's post. It's what "the mom" thinks - and you're right on!
      BTW - I'm heading over to your blog to check it out for myself!

  2. I can see how the ST came to that conclusion but in my opinion, that is some flawed logic. Things that we don't understand, no matter how old we are, cannot become fun until we understand them. To understand means we have to learn. Our kids need motivation to learn because that intangible joy that comes from mastering anything isn't something our kids just "know". The iPad and iTouch, etc. give our kids instant joy because they can see the fun instantly.

    T has the same ABA interventions as Lily. He is currently working on playing "cowboy". He is trying to get the hang of riding one of those "horsie sticks" and chasing the tutors through the halls with a cowboy hat. I'm quite sure he thinks it's bizarre but he will still do it if he gets tickles or iPad or spinning toy car tires time to complete. Little by little, he's smiling when he does it. But that's only after he understands what he is doing.

    PS- it took me til I was an adult to appreciate the "fun" in a puzzle! (& I agree with Beebs and Bro - you're doing a great job, mom!)

    1. Oh Karen - you took the words right out of my mouth, as you'll see if you read tomorrow's post.

      Playing cowboy is totally cracking me up! Don't you just wish you could see inside their little heads sometimes? I would love to know what T thinks about it! And by the way, my oldest LOVED her stick horse! She actually rode it so much that she wore down the stick end that dragged the ground. It got so splintery, that I had to get her another one and stick a tennis ball on it. I was really afraid she might carry it with her to junior high! :)


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