For the past fifteen years, I have been working as a professional play therapist. I specialize in children with autism spectrum disorder. My son, diagnosed with autism at age two, is now twenty-three. If you include the years I worked with him, I’ve been using play therapy sessions for over twenty years.
This is the second article in a series called Confessions of a Play Therapist. I plan to pass along tips, games and techniques I’ve used, along with some amusing memories.
A play therapy tool I use over and over is the trampoline. Yet, I have a love/hate relationship with it.
Here are some of the reasons I love this play therapy tool.
Helps Children with Autism
The trampoline helps children with autism organize themselves sensorily. Sometimes children with autism need sensory input, like the motion of jumping. The joint compression can fulfill deep tissue sensory needs. With each jump, a child with autism becomes more aware of their body and space.
Jumping on a trampoline helps with gross motor skills and helps improve balance.
A child with autism can expend some of their excess energy jumping on a trampoline. When children with autism rid themselves of excess energy they can sit still and focus. They fulfill their sensory needs and it helps them to feel calmer.
Oh and the trampoline can be FUN! (Duh.)
The Trampoline in Play Therapy
It is a great motivation tool for those kids who respond to visual stimulation. I have spent many hours laying on the floor next to a mini trampoline with a favorite toy or action figure on top. I then use my hand underneath the trampoline to “pop” the toy into the air.
Sometimes it is fun and visually stimulating for a child to dump a whole basket of small toys onto the trampoline and make them “pop”. Then I can engage the child in many different ways in the activity. I can work on speech, asking them to say “jump” to see the toy fly through the air. I can ask them to physically take part in the activity by encouraging them to pick up the toy after it “jumps”. Then putting it back on the trampoline so it can jump again.
Here is the reason I sometimes dread using the trampoline.
The Trampoline Incident
I was working with a boy who was 10 years old at the time of the trampoline incident, as I now call it. He is slim with knobby knees, blonde hair and big blue eyes - adorable!
He was having a grand time jumping and doing a variety of tricks and flips while I stood on the side bouncing slowly. I was not letting my feet leave the stretchy black material.
He’s a prolific teller of knock knock jokes and riddles (that I never seem to be able to figure out without a lot of clues). So he’s jumping and telling me jokes and I’m gently jumping on the other side of the trampoline.
He then stands still in the middle of the trampoline and asks me to bounce him. So I do a timid jump toward him. I’m aware of the weight difference between us and have seen what trouble that can cause on a trampoline.
Timid jump, nothing. He doesn’t budge. “Come on!” He says, “Jump!”
So I jump with a little more gusto… nothing, again he doesn’t budge. “Come on! Jump!”
So I jump with more gusto… my little friend went sailing through the air and my heart jumped up into my throat. I felt like I was watching it happen in slow motion.
He lands on the trampoline! (Thank goodness!) But not on his feet! On his shoulder! I rush over to him and ask him if he’s ok. He jumps up, tilts his head to one side and says, “thanks for the chiropractic!” He then went back to jumping and telling me knock knock jokes.
I am so grateful that I can look back on this trampoline incident and laugh about it. I am always aware of the volatility of the trampoline. I now approach joining my kids on the trampoline with even more caution.
Stay up to date on the sensory tools that I offer - Star Essence Aromatherapy. And on my many adventures as a play therapist.
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