When it comes to working with kids, Early Intervention (EI) staff through the Shelby County Board of DD (SCBDD) just wants to PLAY. The PLAY Project is a program that was designed for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by Dr. Richard Solomon from research that began in 2001. Since 2013, SCBDD has utilized Karen Simpson as a certified PLAY Consultant. PLAY Consultants go through 18 months of focused training learning evidence-based techniques. Simpson described her role as, “…The coach for the parents.”
Since most children with ASD prefer interacting with toys and objects over people, PLAY is designed to get the child more interested in their caregiver. Simpson stated, “The first principle of PLAY is fun with people.” Simpson talked about the change in mindset for parents who are raising their children using PLAY methods and techniques. These techniques are not used for getting the child to do what the caregiver or therapist wants, but instead, are used to join the child in what they’re doing. This creates a naturally rewarding experience that encourages children with ASD to prefer ‘people over things’ with the added goal of children with ASD eventually becoming more compliant to a caregiver’s wishes.
While there are some consultants who use this philosophy for children into adulthood, Simpson works with Developmental Specialists in EI to serve children birth to 3 years old. In some counties, PLAY Consulting continues past the third birthday. Simpson reminded, “Dr. Solomon’s research stopped with 6-year-olds.” Because of this, SCBDD has chosen to provide PLAY services until the child turns 6 and/or transitions into elementary school programs.
Karen Simpson is wrapping up her last year working with children for SCBDD. She will be retiring this September and Jessica Baird has been hired as the new PLAY Consultant for SCBDD. Simpson will be greatly missed by her coworkers and the families with whom she currently works. As she retires to help others in different ways, there is a generation of kids that have been helped through her efforts and work with the PLAY Project.