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The Power of Symbolic Play in Emotional Development Through the DIR Lens

Wieder, Serena

doi: 10.1097/TLD.0000000000000126
Original Articles

Symbolic play is a powerful vehicle for supporting emotional development and communication. It embraces all developmental capacities. This article describes how symbols are formed and how emotional themes are symbolized whereby children reveal their understanding of the world, their feelings and relationships, and how they see themselves in the symbols they choose in play. The DIR (Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship) model provides the framework and context for understanding the unique profiles of all children, including those with autism, and the importance of elevating feelings and impulses to the level of symbolic ideas that support emotional and behavioral regulation. Children need play where interactive relationships with parents and caregivers help them climb the symbolic–emotional ladder, even when development is uneven, as in autism spectrum disorders. Examples illustrate children solving emotional challenges, exploring the range of emotions, developing reality testing, and reaching abstract levels of thought and empathy through symbolic play and conversations unifying emotions and intellect in early childhood development.

Profectum Foundation, Mendham, New Jersey.

Corresponding Author: Serena Wieder, PhD, Profectum Foundation, 140 Riverside Dr, New York, NY 10024 (

The author has indicated that she has no financial and no nonfinancial relationships to disclose.

Copyright © 2017 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.