Play Therapy for Speech-Language Intervention

Play is a flexible, non-literal, episodic, and process-oriented form of therapy. During play, the child is actively engaged and intrinsically motivated. True play has no extrinsic goals, but we sacrifice some of that to ensure that target skills are being practiced during play-centered therapy.



Effective play therapy would include planning ahead to keep in mind specific goals being targeted.

Some common goals addressed via play therapy include but are not limited to:

  • Pragmatic Language (i.e., joint attention, eye contact, turn-taking).
  • Figurative Language (i.e., symbolism, non-literal language).
  • Expressive Language (i.e., models for increasing spontaneous productions through auditory bombardment).
  • Receptive Language (i.e., object ID, following directions).

The therapist providing treatment may act as the perfect model to elicit language.

  • A common teaching strategy is providing children with a binary choice so that the child must attempt to approximate a word, not simply give a yes or no answer. (i.e., “Do you want blue or red?”, “Does puppy say moo or woof?”)

Play Scales

For play therapy to be appropriate it is important to refer to normed scales of the stages of play and language.

Bloom and Lahey



  • This framework identifies the normal developmental sequence of utterances that a child learning English expresses (i.e., says, signs, or cues.)
  • In most children, comprehension develops before expression, meaning that most children are likely to comprehend utterances much more complex than the utterances they are able to spontaneously express at the same time.
  • Input by a person fluent in English should be abundant throughout the language acquisition process and is absolutely necessary for both comprehension and expression to develop.

Westby Play Scale


  • This framework connects language use in children with the development of their symbolic play skills.
  • Research shows that language skill development coincides with a child’s emergence of play schemes.

Mother and daughter drawing together

The Bottom Line

  • It has been evidenced that children who present with language delay respond well to these treatment methods.
  • Following parental education, play therapy may be easily duplicated in many settings.
  • There is a positive correlation between play and language.
  • With one toy, multiple tasks may be addressed.
  • In order for language to develop, appropriate play skills must be intact.


Ashley DiGregorio M.A., CF-SLP, TSSLD


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