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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is listed the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a mental disorder. It is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges.

ASD will manifest distinctly and each teenager with ASD will have a unique combination of associated symptoms. However, some of the most common symptoms of ASD, provided by McLean Hospital, include:

  • Challenges communicating with peers and/ or adults.
  • Challenges with social communication and interaction skills.
  • Cognitive rigidity; seeing things as black or white.
  • Highly preferred, narrow interests.
  • Repetitive, stereotyped behaviors.
  • Challenges tolerating frustration and non-preferred activities.
  • Challenges with sensory input and management.
  • Sensory seeking and/ or sensory avoiding behaviors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in America.

Benefits of Play Therapy

Erik Erikson, an expert in human growth and development, defines play as a “situation in which a child can work through experiences by creating model situations and master reality through planning and experimentation.” Play-based approaches to therapy can take many forms, depending on the one’s age, interests, and needs. Play therapy, or imaginative play therapy, is defined as the “systematic use of a theoretical model that establishes an interpersonal process, in which trained therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help children prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.” Although play therapy was originally a tool for providing psychotherapy to young people coping with trauma, anxiety, and mental health disorders, it can be effectively adapted for teenagers with ASD to address their unique needs and challenges.

Play therapy provides a safe environment for teenagers with ASD to learn self-regulatory behavior. It helps teens with ASD shift their way of self-expression from unwanted behavior (e.g., aggressive, self-injurious, property destructive, or tantrum behaviors) to more non-injurious expressive behavior using toys and/ or activities. It can help teenagers with ASD develop greater independence in self-care, daily routines, and decision-making. Play therapy can include activities that encourage empathy and perspective-taking, enhancing their social understanding. It can help teens with ASD reduce anxiety and stress levels. Engaging in play can be relaxing and enjoyable, helping them manage their sensory and emotional sensitivities. Play therapy can help teenagers with ASD develop and improve their communication skills. It provides a structured and interactive environment where they can practice verbal and nonverbal communication, such as taking turns, making requests, and expressing emotions. Play therapy can offer numerous benefits for teenagers with ASD and can significantly impact a teen’s functional and educational prognosis.

For Information and Support 

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


We are available to answer any questions you may have regarding mental health treatment and our residential program, anytime. Contact us today using the form to the right.

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