I use play therapy with children (usually under 12) and young people with learning disabilities and/or autism. Children (and people with learning delays) find it difficult to explain verbally how they are feeling or difficulties they are having. They may not consciously know what they are experiencing or understand their feelings. When they are allowed to play, children will naturally explore their inner world and much information about their feelings and difficulties can be observed. A traumatised child may concretely act out what has happened to them but there are also more symbolic representations of the emotional state. For example, a child who experiences adults as controlling, may place fences around the toy animals and then play at helping the animals escape.
With some children I may be able to ask questions or comment on their play. With other children, I may engage with them through the play - taking on a character and joining in with what is enacted. Some children respond to a toy character more easily than to an adult and can be enabled to share their feelings in this way. It is not necessary for young children to verbalise and/or consciously understand their difficulties. The experience of play in therapy, observed and acknowledged by the therapist, can provide a container for powerful feelings and allow difficulties to be worked through unconsciously.
For some young people, especially those with autism, play therapy may be about learning to play or developing the play. Some children who experienced trauma and/or neglect as infants may have missed out on early developmental experiences and play can then be used reparatively, to allow the child these experiences with the therapist.