Objective. Clinical writings on sensory integration treatment and theory have long professed that play serves as an important means of implementing treatment goals. However, to date, there has been little research that examines this aspect of the intervention. With the use of play language as an indicator for the occurrence of play, this study examined the frequency and characteristics associated with symbolic play language that therapists and children use during sensory integration therapy. This study is part of an ongoing research program designed to examine therapist-child interactions.

Method. The frequency of symbolic play language observed in 41 videotaped treatment sessions of therapist-child dyads (21 children, 12 therapists) was recorded with the Challenge Coding System. The presence of symbolic play language was recorded if the child or therapist used language that incorporated the child, therapist, equipment, or activity into a symbolic or pretend play theme. The frequency of symbolic play language and percentage of time spent using play language were calculated. Associations among frequency of play language, child age, and behavior during the session (e.g., seeking assistance, cooperation) were also examined.

Results. Symbolic play language proved to be a major feature of sensory integration treatment sessions. It also correlated with child age and with some features associated with therapeutic interactions (i.e., child tries hard, child seeks assistance, therapist assists child, therapist modifies activity, therapist structures activity).

Conclusion. The results suggest that these therapists used play language frequently and that this usage may support children in sensory integrative therapy to successfully accomplish activities.

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