NR Times Articles - 02 April 2024 - 8 minutes

Reaching potential through play

Reaching potential through play

While full of joy and happiness for children, play has core roles in their development and learning, and can also be crucial in them engaging in therapy. ILS Case Manager Imelda Molloy explores its importance.

Through play, children learn about themselves and the world around them. They develop skills, both in a physical sense and socially.

Play encourages children to challenge themselves, to test themselves and develop an awareness of their own limitations, which often they want to overcome in order to reach a goal.

Whilst a child learns and develops a skill, they will often repeat it, until that skill is perfected, assisting in the development of confidence and resilience.

Play, and learning through play, also allows children the opportunity to express themselves. If learning is fun, children are more willing to participate.

Play involves a certain degree of risk taking and encourages children and young people to set themselves more advanced goals, which is the basis to reaching their potential. They are also more able to retain information as the process of learning has been enjoyable and memorable.

It has therefore long been established that play improves the physical, cognitive, social and emotional wellbeing of children and young people. So much so that the right of the child to play is stated within the United Nations Convention as a fundamental human right. The International Convention of the Right of Persons with Disabilities (2008) also states it is the right of a child and young person with disabilities to be part of recreation and play.

The value of play should not be underestimated, as right in itself but also as means of achieving optimum development, and in turn, full potential.

How play is key to therapy

As a healthcare professional, play becomes an integral part of developing a rapport with a client from the moment of meeting them.

It would often be on the basis of playing that communication would develop, and from there would start to build that trust between the child and professional.

Frequently, through observation of a child’s play, a healthcare professional can effectively begin the assessment process including observing mobility, ability to transition, gross and fine motor skills, spatial awareness, co-ordination, hand function and communication.

If play can be integrated into treatment and therapy sessions, it can increase a child’s participation, engagement, and motivation, which is likely to improve clinical outcomes and achievement of goals.

Existing research has shown that children and young people with disabilities experience significantly reduced participation in play and leisure.

There are a number of issues that create a barrier to children and young people with disabilities being able to access play, which I have experienced as a case manager.

A child or young person’s impairment can affect their functional abilities and so, in turn can limit their recreation and leisure, for example, reduced strength and balance can affect a child’s ability to play on outdoor equipment.

For a therapist or healthcare professional, a client’s impairment is often the initial focus of therapy and input, in order to improve a client’s skills or reduce the effect of an impairment, such as spasticity.

Case managers can liaise closely with all members of the involved multidisciplinary team to co-ordinate and conduct input, which allows input at an impairment level and a more holistic view of a client. This ensures that a client’s functional abilities are not preventing or limiting them from accessing play.

The importance of finding places to play

Children and young people need to be able to physically access opportunities to play.

If the environment of the play setting is not accessible to children and young people with disabilities, they will be excluded from this opportunity.

As a case manager, it can be important to source appropriate companies that can provide specialist equipment in order to ensure that accessibility is not limiting a client’s ability to play.

Lack of appropriate means of transport for children and young people with disabilities also hinders their opportunities for play within the wider community; it can be difficult for those with disabilities to travel longer distances or public transport may not be suitable to use and so they are unable to access what may be otherwise suitable activities.

Whilst researching appropriate leisure and play activities for clients, case managers need to consider the logistics and wider implications of accessing such activities.

Some families can face isolation at home, which can affect an individual’s ability to access play. Depending on a child or young person’s level of disability, they may require a ratio of two carers to one child.

It can be extremely challenging for families to access play opportunities outside the home if this is the case and there is only one care provider available.

It may be appropriate in such instances for case managers to support clients and their families in the recruitment of support workers or buddies that can assist clients in accessing play, in the home environment and in the wider community.

It is important for support workers to understand the value of play and learning through play for their clients in order to reach their maximum potential.

It is also imperative that those providing care and support to clients with disabilities utilise toys and equipment supporting play that are cognitively appropriate for individual clients, tailoring care to meet their individual needs.

Making play a part of everyday life

It is crucial that play for all children and young people should be incorporated into all environments, including at home and in educational settings.

A family home that is lacking space or does not meet their needs may cause a barrier to a child or young person with disabilities being able to access play. It may limit what toys and equipment they may have available to them which could support their recreation and learning or prevent them from developing a skill and subsequently limit their potential.

It can be that the requirement for more appropriate accommodation needs to be recognised and resolved before case managers can look at sourcing appropriate play and leisure.

Case managers are able to provide support both in a home and within an educational setting, so can promote play and leisure within all aspects of their clients’ environments.

It may be appropriate for case managers to advocate balancing play within both environments, for the benefit of their client; a child may have a piece of equipment that will support their play and development that they cannot use at home due to unsuitable housing.

As a case manager can liaise with home and school, it may be agreed that a client could use the equipment within school as part of their therapy programme as an alternative, providing a problem-solving approach, in order for the child to reach their potential.

Children and young people with disabilities often require support from adults to lead, progress and direct their play. This may cause them to lose the element of spontaneous, self-directed play and the benefits that this brings including stimulating imagination, developing problem solving skills and developing self-confidence.

It can also be the case as a child or young person gets older and adult intervention may be less suitable. As children and young people strive to reach their potential, a goal is often to increase their independent skills.

However, it can be challenging to balance this whilst providing appropriate support to ensure access to play and learning through play.

It is important for carers and support staff to be aware of how to manage this with their clients and actively encourage clients to make their own play choices and lead their play and leisure time, as able.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, potential is ‘someone’s ability to develop, achieve or succeed’. As a healthcare professional, a core aim of your input is to assist clients in being able to realise and maximise their potential.

Case Managers have the privilege of being able to support their clients, families and wider network to break down the barriers which may limit play, enhance opportunities to develop their play and learning, and promote the facilitation of play, fun and learning through all aspects of a client’s life.

After all, what better way is there to reach your potential than through the power of play?

 

This article was also published on www.nrtimes.co.uk on 31st March 2022