ENHANCING THINKING SKILLS AMONGST CHILDREN WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER THROUGH PLAY THERAPY: A CASE STUDY IN AN INCLUSIVE CHILDCARE CENTRE IN KUCHING, SARAWAK
Keywords:play therapy, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), thinking skills, nursery caregivers, occupational therapist
Most children naturally engage in play as they progress through life. Play refers to enjoyable physical or mental activities that enhance children’s abilities to negotiate, solve problems, master manual dexterity, work in a team, share, make decisions, and work with others. However, those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) typically experience the numerous play stages in fragments or do not undergo them at all. With this in mind, this study seeks to understand how interventions with play therapy impacts the development of thinking skills amongst children with ASD by asking the following questions: 1) How does play help enhance the development of thinking skills amongst children with ASD? 2) What are the play therapy strategies employed by nursery caregivers and occupational therapists (OTs) in enhancing thinking skills amongst children with ASD? The study sample consisted of 6 children with ASD aged 3-5 years old who were enrolled in an inclusive childcare centre in Kuching, Sarawak. For 3 months, nursery caregivers and OT at the childcare centre carried out interventions using play therapy strategies and observations focusing on the children’s thinking skills in interacting with peers their age who do not have ASD. Data were collected through observational checklists and video observations while secondary supporting data were collected via parental interviews, focusing on parental observation of their children’s thinking skills at home. Thematic analysis revealed that play therapy encouraged the development of these skills amongst children with ASD, particularly in problem solving and organisational skills daily. This qualitative study hopes to provide a richer understanding and insight into the impact of play therapy on children with ASD. It hopes to encourage educators and nursery caregivers in inclusive childcare centres to employ play therapy in interventions to improve thinking skills for children with ASD.
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