Play Specialist

Hospital Play Specialist
The Hospital Play Specialist (HPS) is a trained and experienced professional who facilitates normalising and therapeutic play for infants, children and young people in hospital. They work independently and with the multidisciplinary team contributing to child and family-centred care for both in-patients and out-patients. The Hospital Play Specialists primary focus is on: 

  1. Normalising Play
  2. Therapeutic Play
  3. Preparation
  4. Distraction
  5. Post Procedural Play

Normalising Play
Normalising play is child-directed consisting of those activities performed for self-amusement.  It is enjoyable and spontaneous and the rewards come from within the individual child. Children express themselves though play and it brings lots of fun and excitement to children. Therefore play needs to be provided within a hospital environment. Normalising play is very important within a hospital setting for infants, children and young people.  It can reduce stress and anxiety and can encourage parental involvement in the child’s care.  Play gives the children an opportunity to explore their hospital experiences and it can give a daily routine or structure to their day that can otherwise be busy with medical tests and procedures. The HPS can use play based observations to assess a child’s development from social interaction to gross/fine motor skills and can encourage skills that may have been lost or regressed through the child’s condition or hospital stay.

Therapeutic Play
Therapeutic play is purposeful play lead by the HPS and has as its main objective the improved emotional and physical well being of the child. This is accomplished with playful activities that directly relate to the child’s medical condition.

Therapeutic Play is an exciting way to bring the outside world into the hospital environment and this is actively promoted for the wellbeing of children in hospital. It can be used by the HPS to help build rapport with children and young people and have lots of fun and laughter whether in the Play Room or at the child’s bedside.  Therapeutic Play is also used when children and young people need to express some of their anger/frustration or anxieties while being in hospital. It can also be used with infants and toddlers to help promote and maintain their developmental milestones. Children may have an intravenous cannula, wound dressing, naso-gastric tube, limb cast etc. or may have special needs, but through therapeutic play they can enjoy a wide range of activities using textures, art work, messy play, water-play and food play.

Preparation is a technique used by the HPS to prepare children prior to their hospital admission or on the day of admission. It is used to support children, young people and their families in understanding and coping with the hospital treatments and procedures.  Preparation is about giving correct information to the children, for example, having their anaesthetic or having a blood test. HPS uses child friendly assessments and play to explain and explore children’s understanding and feelings towards their hospital admission. Specialised play tools used to prepare children are real medical equipment when appropriate, hospital role play and through conversation with the child and family. Preparation can break down any misconceptions that the child or family may have regarding their hospital visit and promote a positive experience. Preparation is guided by the child’s engagement and cognitive ability and is lead by trained Hospital Play Specialists and supported by the multi-disciplinary team and parents.

There are two main forms of distraction; non verbal distraction and verbal distraction.
Non Verbal Distraction:
Non Verbal distraction works well with children and parents. Methods used are lights, sounds, blowing bubbles and texture toys to help distract children while having medical treatment.

Verbal Distraction:
Verbal distraction can be used with all age groups, however young people respond well to this form of distraction. Conversation can be about a certain topic of interest from soccer, favourite TV programmes, music and dance to name a few. Verbal distraction can be used to explain and discuss what is actually happening to the children by breaking down the information so they know what the next step will be. These are ways that Hospital Play Specialists can distract and support the children and young people.

Distraction can be used in a variety of clinical settings including the Day Ward, Children’s Outpatients and the Emergency Department. It can help to reduce the child’s anxiety while having a blood test or when being assessed by the doctor and nurses and having treatment done. Distraction techniques e.g. bubbles, feather, imagery can help the child learn breathing relaxation techniques or controlled breathing. Distraction methods can also support the multi disciplinary team in assessing limb movement. Distraction can be enjoyed by all and help make the child’s experience a positive one.

Post Procedural Play/Support:
Post Procedural Play is carried out with children when they appear anxious following a procedure/treatment. It can be used to reinforce information given and provide emotional support to the child and parents after treatment. This can help reduce possible distress and benefit the child with future hospital admissions. Post Procedural Play is a fun way to engage with children in a non-invasive way regarding their hospital experiences, using messy play and incorporating medical equipment while giving them a chance to express themselves in a safe environment. In conclusion, play has a very special function in the National Children’s Hospital. 

Hospital Play Specialists:

  • organise daily play and art activities in the playroom or at the bedside
  • provide play to achieve developmental goals
  • help children master and cope with anxieties and feelings
  • use play to prepare children for hospital procedures
  • support families and siblings
  • contribute to clinical judgements through their play-based observations
  • teach the value of play for the sick child
  • encourage peer group friendships to develop
  • organise parties and special events