A Parent’s Guide to Play Therapy


For further information, please contact Megan Clerk, Educational Psychologist.

Contact Number: 076 562 8271

Email: megan@edpsychologist.co.za

The benefits an Educational Psychologist can offer you, your children and family throughout their learning and development

Educational Psychology focusses on an individual’s functioning within the domain of learning and development. With this domain spanning across a number of years as children grow, it can’t be argued that Educational Psychology is a diverse field offering a range of services to suite each stage of development. Educational Psychological support is also not only limited to children, parents and families, but is also available to teachers and communities where parental and teacher workshops provide in-depth information on various topics.

In development, working with parents of younger infants within the Sensorimotor stage of Cognitive Development (Birth to 2 years), Parental Support and Guidance is provided. Play Therapy with children as young as 2 to 3 years old is also initiated, where clients are able to start their journeys in learning and development with the assistance of an Educational Psychologist from early on. One of the keys to success is identifying difficulties as early as possible, in order to assist clients in overcoming and adapting to their individual circumstances.

Within the Pre-Operational stage of Cognitive Development (2 to 7 years), Educational Psychologists provide support through Developmental Assessments; Behavioural, Social & Emotional Assessments and Support; School Readiness Assessments; Psycho-Educational Assessments – as well as Play Therapy and continued Parental Support and Guidance. All assessments are conducted with the aim of assisting parents, children and teachers in dealing with identified difficulties.

The third stage of Cognitive development is the Concrete Operational stage (7 to 11 years) where children start to think logically with regard to concrete objects and events, begin to use classification, understand mathematical concepts and to achieve. Educational Psychological support again includes Psycho-Educational assessments to identify any learning, social or emotional difficulties that may impact on children’s abilities to achieve to their maximum potentials. Identification of Learning Difficulties such as ADHD/ADD; Dyslexia; Dysgraphia; Dyscalculia; Reading & Comprehension, Slow Processing Speed; Poor Working Memory (to name a few) are assessed. Support in the area of Learning Support as well as Study Skills & Methods are offered by some Educational Psychologists.  Individual therapy is introduced during this stage to assist with emotional, social and behavioural difficulties which may further impact performance. Typically the well-known areas of anxiety, divorce, family/relationship difficulties, grief, trauma, bullying, emotional/social difficulties and various disorders can be supported through therapy.

In the Formal-Operational stage (11 years and beyond), adolescents can explore logical solutions to concrete and abstract concepts, understand and reason by analogy, metaphors and hypothetical thinking. Here Educational Psychologists offer additional assessments to assist in future planning and education. Subject Choice Assessments are typically conducted in Grade 8 to assist children in choosing subjects that they will carry through to the end of their High School education. These are based on aptitudes, interests and personality. Similarly, Career Guidance and Assessments are conducted with children in Grade 11/12 to assist in tertiary education decision-making. Within this phase of education (Senior and FET phases), children who struggle with specific barriers to learning (e.g. ADHD/ADD; Emotional Difficulties; Medical Conditions which affect scholastic performance – Hearing, Sight, various Health Conditions – require Concession and Accommodation Assessments. These assessments aim at providing children with an equal opportunity to perform to their full potential and do not provide an additional advantage over others. Typical concessions/accommodations include additional time, rest breaks, medication/food breaks, separate venues, enlarged text and computerised examinations (to mention a few). Individual Therapy is also an option for support throughout this stage of development and is commonly utilised by adolescents adapting to change, struggling with relationship difficulties and various emotional and social challenges. Where families require support as a unit, Family Therapy is offered across all stages of development to assist in various needs of the family unit which may be in crisis, suffering loss or struggling to manage individual difficulties that members of the family may be faced with e.g. managing behavioural, emotional, social or educational difficulties.

Educational Psychologists are not limited to working with children only. Career Guidance and Assessments, as well as Concession and Accommodation assessments are also offered to students within tertiary settings, or to those aiming to study further, as well as to adults wishing to make a career change. Support for teachers and parents can also be provided through Talks/Information Evenings and Workshops on various topics e.g. ADHD; Learning Disorders/Difficulties; Concessions & Accommodations; Bullying, as well as a variety of topics according to specific needs within a school or community.

Lastly, some Educational Psychologists have furthered their training and expertise to include working within, for example, Child & Family Mediation where they assist parents in divorce/separation scenarios to draw up Parenting Plans in the best interest of the child – an element required as part of the legal documentation in Divorce. Others have entered into Medico-Legal and Forensic Assessments to assist in claims of personal injury and loss, and placement and emotional assessment in legal matters where children are concerned.

The benefits of enlisting the services of an Educational Psychologist are extensive.  As a parent, it is important to know that you do not have to be alone in struggling to deal with difficulties.  Lastly, certain medical aid plans also cover the costs of assessments in part/full depending on the specific plan. Early identification and intervention is key to assisting any individual with difficulties.

By: Megan Clerk

What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a psychiatric disorder or neurobehavioral disorder characterized by significant difficulties either of inattention or hyperactivity and impulsiveness or a combination of the two. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), symptoms emerge before seven years of age.


Signs and Symptoms

Children with ADHD tend to get distracted from schoolwork rather easily, and they often behave disruptively.

Inattention, hyperactivity, disruptive behaviour and impulsivity are common in ADHD.  Academic difficulties are also frequent.  The symptoms are especially difficult to define because it is hard to draw a line at where normal levels of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity end and clinically significant levels requiring intervention begin.  To be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms must be observed in two different settings for six months or more and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.

The symptom categories yield three potential classifications of ADHD — predominantly inattentive type, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type, or combined type if criteria for both subtypes are met:

Predominantly inattentive type symptoms may include:

  • Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
  • Have difficulty maintaining focus on one task
  • Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless doing something enjoyable
  • Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new or trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
  • Not seem to listen when spoken to
  • Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
  • Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
  • Struggle to follow instructions.

Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type symptoms may include:

  • Fidget and squirm in their seats
  • Talk nonstop
  • Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
  • Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time
  • Be constantly in motion
  • Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities

and also these manifestations primarily of impulsivity:

  • Be very impatient
  • Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
  • Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games

Some children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD have an increased risk of experiencing difficulties with social skills, such as social interaction and forming and maintaining friendships.  About half of children and adolescents with ADHD experience rejection by their peers compared to 10-15 percent of non-ADHD children and adolescents. Training in social skills, behavioural modification and medication may have some limited beneficial effects.

The most important factor in reducing emergence of later psychopathology, such as major depression, criminality, school failure, and substance use disorders is formation of friendships with people who are not involved in delinquent activities.  Adolescents with ADHD are more likely to have difficulty making and keeping friends due to impairments in processing verbal and nonverbal language.

Handwriting difficulties seem to be common in children with ADHD.  Delays in speech and language as well as motor development occur more commonly in the ADHD population.


The management of ADHD involves either psychotherapy or medication therapy alone or a combination of the two.  Medications used in the treatment of ADHD include stimulants, noradrenergic agents, adrenergic agonists and certain antidepressants. Medications have at least some effect in about 80% of people.  Dietary modifications may also be of benefit.


The evidence is strong for the effectiveness of behavioural treatments in ADHD.  It is recommended first line in those who have mild symptoms and in preschool-aged children.  Psychological therapies used include psychoeducational input, behavior therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), family therapy, school-based interventions, social skills training, parent management training, neurofeedback, and outdoor activities.  Parent training and education have been found to have short-term benefits.  There is a deficiency of good research on the effectiveness of family therapy for ADHD, but the evidence that exists shows that it is comparable in effectiveness to treatment as usual in the community and is superior to medication placebo.  Several ADHD specific support groups exist as informational sources and to help families cope with challenges associated with dealing with ADHD.


Stimulant medications are the medical treatment of choice.  There are a number of non-stimulant medications, such as atomoxetine, that may be used as alternatives.  There are no good studies of comparative effectiveness between various medications, and there is a lack of evidence on their effects on academic performance and social behaviours.  While stimulants and atomoxetine are generally safe, there are side-effects and contraindications to their use.  Medications are not recommended for preschool children, as their long-term effects in such young people are unknown.  Research into the long-term effects of stimulants in ADHD have come to conflicting conclusions with one study finding benefit, another finding no benefit while another finding evidence of harm.  The current research has methodological problems and more robust research has been recommended. Any drug used for ADHD may have adverse drug reactions such as psychosis and mania, though methylphenidate-induced psychosis is uncommon.  Regular monitoring of individuals receiving long-term stimulant therapy for possible treatment emergent psychosis has been recommended.  Stimulant therapy is recommended to be discontinued periodically during protracted therapy to assess for continuing need for medication.  Tolerance to the therapeutic effects of stimulants can occur, with rebound effects occurring when the dose wears off. Therefore due to the risk of discontinuation/rebound effects abrupt withdrawal of stimulants is not recommended.

People with ADHD have an increased risk of substance abuse, and research studies have found that stimulant medications reduce this risk or have no effect on substance abuse.  Additionally, stimulant medications approved for treating ADHD have the potential for abuse and dependence.  Atomoxetine due to its lack of abuse potential may be preferred in individuals who are at risk of abusing stimulant medication.

Deficiency in zinc has been associated with inattentive symptoms of ADHD and there is evidence that zinc supplementation can benefit ADHD children who have low zinc levels.  There is also some evidence that zinc supplementation leads to a significant reduction in the dosage of stimulants required for ADHD.

(Obtained from the Web)