Berkeley Location Opening 5/23!!

SPL does Play Groups Differently

IMG_0218 2

Table of Contents

Recently, we did an Instagram Reel discussing social skills groups and why SPL’s might look differently than other local clinics or centers. We got lots of likes and re-shares, and so now it’s time to deep dive into Spirited Play Lab’s play group philosophy!

Social Model of Disability

At Spirited Play Labs, we expand on your child’s current skills using the social model of disability. What is the social model of disability? Well, it’s defined as:

“The social model of disability identifies systemic barriers, derogatory attitudes, and social exclusions (intentional or inadvertent), which make it difficult or impossible for disabled people to attain their valued functionings. The social model of disability diverges from the dominant medical model of disability, which is a functional analysis of the body as a machine to be fixed in order to conform with normative values.” (Wikipedia,

How does this relate to play groups?

Other social skills groups are focused on “fixing” the child with social-pragmatic differences, anxiety, or autism. They focus on teaching children how to look similar to their peers. This viewpoint comes from a deficit-based model that assumes our children with delays or disabilities cannot have positive social relationships as they are.

When we take the social model of disability into consideration, along with neurodiversity-affirming therapeutic styles such as DIR/Floortime, we meet children where they are in their social dynamics. We work to help children understand themselves and others as social beings, and to create self-advocacy to be able to enjoy their social experiences in the way it works for them. 

What are examples of play group goals?

  • Children will be given autonomy and taught how to self-advocate
  • Children will practice problem solving in real world settings
  • Children will learn and utilize tools to support regulation that can be used across different settings
  • Increased confidence in social play
  • Children will experience shared joy while engaging in enjoyable activities with peers
  • Children will increase their confidence in self expression and advocacy
  • Children will have more comfort and regulation while in a social environment

What to expect in our play groups:

  1. Our focus is on building relationships! Relationships between children and their instructor, child to child, as well as parent to instructor. That means we are putting few expectations on your child to follow the rules to start. If your child doesn’t come in the room, or struggles to engage at first, that’s okay! It’s all part of the process of building trust and learning new skills.
  2. We bring in your child’s special interests or loved activities to get “buy-in.” We want children to have an *intrinsic* desire to connect and play with us and their peers, rather than extrinsic. Instead of imposing reward-based rules or limitations (aka extrinsic), we allow children to explore freely and experiment in their own ways. This allows learning to generalize across many different environments (rather than relying on the adult who sets the rules).
  3. We accept children as they are. You might see children exhibit behaviors that our society deems “inappropriate” or “bad” (i.e. throwing toys, not greeting, running around, etc.) While you can continue to work with your child, please know your child will never be kicked out or reprimanded for these sorts of behaviors. Other children may also be engaged in these behaviors, and they are welcome too. At the heart of our groups is a desire to learn more about each child, rather than punish them for bad behavior. Our role is to give parents an understanding as to why children do what they do, and support their growth toward more skill building.

Check out our most popular play group at

This website uses cookies to make sure you get the best experience on our website. Learn more on our Privacy Policy page.