top of page

Autplay Therapy

Learn about this variation of Play Therapy, which has been developed to support children with social communication difficulties.

Autplay Therapy was developed as an intervention for children with Autism, though it is also appropriate for children with a range of other developmental concerns, including ADHD, Sensory Processing Difficulties and Learning Disabilities. Autplay Therapy incorporates some of the Psychotherapy theories and techniques of Child-Centred Play Therapy, Filial Therapy, Systemic Family Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Play Therapy. It also includes other behavioural, communication and mindfulness skills such as role modelling, social narratives, social skill training, social stories, self-esteem activities, relaxation and visual supports. Unlike Play Therapy, where the child leads the play and content of the session, Autplay Therapy is a structured intervention; the session content is planned by the Therapist in advance, though there are opportunities within the activities for some child-directed play. Autplay is suitable for children aged 3-18 years old and can be effective for both mild to severe range of impairments.

How does it help?

Autplay Therapy helps by supporting children to develop skills in three primary target areas:

Emotional Regulation

(Includes: Identifying emotions, understanding and expressing emotions, emotion/situation recognition, recognising emotions in others, sharing emotional experiences and managing emotions)

Social Functioning

(Includes: Non verbal communication skills - eye contact, facial expressions, gestures and body language; Verbal communication skills - back and forth conversations, initiating and responding to social overtures, recognising and using humour; Social etiquette - taking turns in games and conversations, appropriate situational behaviour and comments, public vs private behaviour)

Connection to others

(Includes: Parent/Carer and child bond, managing separations, understanding of/developing friendships and other relationships, joint attention, sharing interest with others, understanding and managing personal space, appropriate adult/child/peer relationships, stranger danger, relationship problem-solving)

Although these are the three primary target areas, it is not possible to work on these areas without addressing sensory processing, anxiety and challenging behaviour issues. These are called the secondary targets areas. Research has indicted that by targeting these areas, the child experiences greater success in their everyday functioning, reduction in their distressing emotional and sensory symptoms which and less frequent and intense challenging behaviours. This can result in improved emotional well-being, healthier, safer relationship, improved concentration and attention, better engagement in their school work and more willingness to develop social activities.

Autplay also helps parents/carers directly as it involves a training component for them, in person. The significant persons in the child's life will be supported to develop a consistent way of interacting and playing with the child in order to build predictability and encourage success across multi-social environments. Research has indicated this way of working increases parent/carer confidence in their parenting skills.  

Autplay Therapy Appointments

Northumberland Play & Filial Therapy Service offers both onsite and mobile Play Therapy appointments. For those children not coming to our base, generally there would be an attempt to arrange these appointments in a location that would be least disruptive to the child's day. It can be a challenging for children to travel to and from therapy appointments; it can cause unnecessary stress. Appointments could take place in a children's centre or other community building.

Consistency is key in the development of a trusting therapeutic relationship and a safe, containing therapeutic space where the child can explore their difficulties. There will be practical agreements made to support this:

  • The appointments will be made in advance, for the same time and day of the week for each appointment
  • The same room will be made to the child for each appointment
  • The same Play Therapist will deliver the therapy
  • Where possible, the same person will escort the child to and from the therapy session.

Autplay Therapy is offered in blocks of eight, with the minimum commitment being sixteen. There needs to be a set minimum to allow for children to take their time to building a trusting relationship with the Therapist, to do some real work and then prepare for ending/transition. However, given the significant long-term nature of some of the challenges for children with Autism in particular, Autplay Therapy should be viewed as a longer term intervention. There really is not set limit to the amount of sessions that should be offered; it is all measured and negotiated against the progress of each individual child, the response and enthusiasm of their families and schools to the work in addition to the financial package available from the referrer.  


This page has been reproduced from  with permission.

bottom of page