A CLIC Sargent Play Specialist talks about their role and how they help children with cancer understand their treatment.
"As a CLIC Sargent Play Specialist, my primary role is to work with the children and teenagers to help them understand their radiotherapy treatment.
"When a child has radiotherapy, it is important for them to stay absolutely still during their treatment. Sometimes general anaesthetic has to be given to keep them from moving.
"We aim – wherever possible – to help the child understand their treatment, reducing the need for general anaesthetic.
Creating the right environment
"The important thing to do is prepare the child through play. We create an environment for the child and family to relax, talk freely and play. Through this we can build a relationship and earn each other’s trust.
Toys and puppets
"From the very first meeting we are preparing the child for their treatment. There are materials to help, such as books suited to the age of the child and real-life photographs that show what will happen. We also use specially adapted toys and puppets to help the child understand what will be expected of them during treatment.
"When a child has radiotherapy they have to wear ‘immobilisation devices’ to stop them moving so that the treatment can be as effective as possible. These include masks for the face and head and moulds (also known as shells) for the body. They are made of a plastic material and can look very scary for both children and parents.
"The masks or moulds are made for each child, so we practice making one on the child’s hand first to reduce their anxiety.
"We also take the children to the department so they can meet the radiographers and take a look at the machines themselves.
"This play approach really works. The child feels less anxious and more in control of their treatment. They feel proud when they manage to stay still.
"The result of this type of play therapy is that far fewer children - even those under the age of four - need a general anaesthetic or sedative to keep them still during their treatment.
"It increases the child’s and family’s confidence in the treatment, reduces risks and most importantly makes a potentially frightening experience easier for the child."
Written by a CLIC Sargent Play Specialist