Become a Playful Artist with Your Sensory Needs Child

When I talk to therapists and parents about using the arts they are often intimidated. The suggestion that they would speak (or paint or dance) from the heart fluidly and imaginatively with children evokes their hesitancy and embarrassment. They think this must be something I can do and they cannot. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Anyone can tap the wellsprings of creativity. It is a birthright. It does, however, require a willingness to take the risk of plunging into the unknown and feeling foolish for a moment, until you relish the playfulness so much that you begin to long for it all the time! Nothing will capture the limbic attention of a child more than seeing an adult being child-like.


Play Creates a Safe Environment for Development

Recently I attended a play at a church in a small town where I was teaching at a special education program. The community did not have a big budget for their production. The adults were putting on a play for a holiday. It was a parable. Their costumes were hardly extravagant and the props were makeshift, but the actors really got into their roles. They were all adult members of the congregation with no professional acting experience, just a willingness to participate. Most of the actors were the parents, teachers and therapists for the children who live with sensory challenges who were in the program for which I was teaching. The adults were immersed in their roles and were clearly enjoying the entire event. The children could not have been more engaged if they had been at a million dollar multi-media production. Their laughter and cries of encouragement filled the room. When adults let themselves reveal the child within them then children relax and rejoice. The joys of being silly and laughing together erased any sense of difference and invited everyone into an environment of inclusion.

How to Use Art and Play for Sensory Therapy

Getting down on the floor and playing alongside a sensory needs child, whether as a parent, an aide, a care provider or a therapist, provides safety. Being fully present at the child’s level stimulates the limbic brain through companionable presence. The continuity of such experiences builds a sense of inclusion. Sitting behind a child and not making eye contact while he plays with a computer or a device may have other benefits but it is not a stimulant for the limbic brain and social engagement.

Examples of play and art may include:

  • Storytelling: All children love stories about themselves. When they participate in creating and telling their stories they reveal layers of feeling. Images, colors and characterization become venues to sort, filter and channel sensory experience.
  • The Art of the Family: Co-participate with a child in making a family album but the images are drawn by the child. As a child draws her impressions of family members and family dynamics they are able to reveal their inner experiences and communicate their perspective to you, as their co-participant and guide.
  • Lego Lands: I spent several hours with a young boy building imaginary Lego Lands with interconnecting bridges while his parents watched, amazed at how he was depicting the structures of his inner world. Through these Lego Lands this boy, who was having some serious problems at school and in his social relationships, revealed how he longed to build bridges that linked his birth family with his adopted family. Once his parents saw this it was easy for them to fulfill his “secret” desire that was now no longer a secret. This boy would never have been able to communicate this need in words. Engaging in play was the ready access to his inner truth.

book on sensory integration


Ph. D. Stephanie MinesDr. Stephanie Mines is a psychologist whose unique understanding comes from her academic research as well as her extensive work in the field. Her stories of personal transformation have led many listeners to become deeply committed to the healing journey. Dr. Mines understands shock from every conceivable perspective. She has investigated it as a survivor, a professional, a healthcare provider, and as a trainer of staffs of institutions and agencies.Meet Stephanie.

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