Research Article
Issue Date: November/December 1997
Published Online: November 01, 1997
Updated: April 30, 2020
Symbolic Play Language During Sensory Integration Treatment
Author Affiliations
  • Laura A. Cross, MS, OTR/L, is Pediatric Occupational Therapist, California Children’s Services, San Francisco, California. (Mailing address: 130 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley, California 94941)
  • Wendy J. Coster, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Occupational Therapy, Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
Article Information
Sensory Integration and Processing / Research
Research Article   |   November 01, 1997
Symbolic Play Language During Sensory Integration Treatment
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, November/December 1997, Vol. 51, 808-814.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, November/December 1997, Vol. 51, 808-814.
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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.