The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 16, 2012

Play therapy offered for Joplin children affected by tornado

By Kelsey Ryan

JOPLIN, Mo. — After riding out the May 22 tornado in the 15th Street Wal-Mart, Kandi Potter started noticing changes in 4-year-old daughter Jai’s behavior.

“She was in my arms the whole time,” Potter said. “The building came down. She was hearing all the yelling. She knew I was scared. She had never heard me scream before. Just the trauma of everything that happened.

“She was very withdrawn and apprehensive about everything. Within five minutes of leaving the house, she’d be crying to go home. And when she was home and nervous, she wanted to withdraw to her room and withdraw to her bed. Her behaviors were progressively getting worse.”

She would become more subdued when she was driven close to the destruction zone.

So Potter signed Jai up for play therapy sessions at the Alliance of Southwest Missouri. She said she has seen a drastic change in her daughter, who has been going to the sessions since August.

“She’s more normal now,” said Potter, who recommends that other Joplin parents seek out the services that are being offered.

Joyce Wilkerson, a registered play therapist supervisor and president of the Missouri Association for Play Therapy, has been helping children in Joplin cope since the day after the tornado. She estimates that 100 children have been served with play therapy since the storm.

“When I was first seeing children after the tornado, the very next day at shelters, they were playing out what their experience was in the tornado,” Wilkerson said. “A lot of chaos. A lot of destruction. A lot of moving things from one place to another. A lot of burying things in the sand. Over time, we’re seeing that go back to regular play that’s developmentally appropriate.”

Wilkerson said children are a bit more developmentally delayed in their verbal skills than in their cognitive skills, and that play therapy gives them a chance to express themselves without having to use their verbal skills.

“It specifically connects with their world,” she said. “We choose very specific toys that help them express that and that let us know where they’re at with their experience and trauma.”

She said the children usually won’t talk about their specific experience, like with the tornado, but their other behaviors will be affected. Some youngsters have regressed with things like potty training.

Information about play therapy may be obtained via the Alliance of Southwest Missouri at 417-782-9899. There are no costs for the therapy.


THE ALLIANCE OF SOUTHWEST MISSOURI will be the host for a Community Hope Conference starting at 8:45 a.m. Friday at the Joplin Holiday Inn. The cost is $10. On Friday night, the alliance will present guest speaker Antwone Fisher, author and screenwriter, at 6:30 p.m. at College Heights Christian Church. The cost is $10.