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Episode Summary

In this episode, Zach talks with Tao Moran, a special educator and play therapist who was inspired to switch careers by her autistic son. Tao shares the importance of early intervention and how the pandemic led to her finally understanding the benefits of embedded practice.

They also discuss the importance of parent involvement and how technology can be effective, or dangerous, depending on how it is used. To close, Tao shares best practices for therapy and explains why the development of social emotional skills is more important than ever.

Episode Notes

The Importance of Early Intervention

  • The current system does not always operate in the child’s best interest
    • (3:00) – “I feel like pediatricians are just taught to calm everyone down.”
  • Better data has led to an increased push for intervention
    • (3:23) – “If there is some sort of developmental window there that when kids don’t get what they need, those windows start to close a little bit.”
  • Success is the result of therapists and parents working together

How the Pandemic Has Allowed Tao to See Therapy in a Different Way

  • Teletherapy led to a reversal of roles
    • (6:09) – “When we had a screen between myself and a family, I had to use embedded practice. I can’t physically play with a toy through a screen.”
  • Embedded practice requires full engagement from parents
  • Better engagement means better results
    • (8:51) – “If what I was offering went really well for them, it went really well because that was the parent and the child playing together, enjoying being with each other, getting everything developmentally just right.”

Parents Must be in-tune to their Child’s Needs

  • Sensory issues are an indication of a need for intervention
    • (9:52) – “Any child who’s on the spectrum always has sensory issues and some children with sensory issues are on the spectrum.”
  • Well-meaning efforts by parents often delay development
    • (11:05) – “Put the bobo in their mouth so they’re not crying, put the screen in front of their face so they’re not saying anything. The overreliance on those kinds of things has been very detrimental developmentally to kids and especially if you have a child who is delayed.”

Effective Therapy Leads to a Greater Understanding

  • Play is a child’s primary form of communication
    • (14:15) – “They’re all presenting with this great person that they are and we’re trying to sort of peel back the things that they need and find what their own talents and great things are.”
    • (14:44) – “Play is the center of forming that relationship so we can have a reciprocal give and take and have a conversation with someone.”
  • Everyone has different abilities and strengths
  • Tao’s personal experience opened her eyes to her own possibility
    • (18:06) – “I had my son who needed early intervention, and I had these great play therapists who were in my space and in my house, and it was like, ‘oh.’ I didn’t know about this whole world.”
  • Similar techniques does not mean a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach

Why Everyone Needs to Recharge

  • Even rewarding activities can be exhausting
    • (25:22) – “They’re lovely, they’re wonderful, but you’re not having a conversation. It’s like ‘put the shape in. Wow, it’ a circle.’ I do that maybe three times a day with three different kids.”
  • Work doesn’t meet all of our physical and mental needs
    • (26:31) – “We all have an inner life, or another life, and it’s good to cultivate those things as well.”

On Tao’s Career Transition

  • Outside factors played a role in her decision
    • (23:15) – “As we know, women tend to be paid less and the economics of having two children and then going out to work and paying someone to then care for my child did not make sense for me. And so I stayed home with my second child, so I was the person playing with him and doing all those things.”
  • Tao saw the benefits of play firsthand
  • Life experiences can change your interests and priorities
  • Our economic environment allows for exploration
    • (30:02) – “Where is the thing that works better, or best, for me for the talents that I bring?”
    • (30:11) – “Even in one career there isn’t just one way of doing it. There are different niches and ways to go about it.”
  • A changing workplace has given the employee more control

Our Changing World Provides Both Opportunity and Danger

  • Technology is now intuitive and self-correcting
  • Consistent habits provide feedback and rewire the brain
    • (35:09) – “When you then want to have that conversation, or play with your child, or engage them and they’re not able to, it’s because you’ve kind of created that expectation. That’s immediate gratification, ‘I get what I want,’ stars and whistles start going off.”
  • Time limits are essential to appropriate screen use
    • (37:05) – “If you build that into a child’s schedule, they’ll go with it. It’s something that they get used to, right?”
  • An overreliance on technology can lead to developmental delays
    • (37:34) “You’re going to get no language out of that, and if you do get language, it’s going to be scripted language which is not reciprocal language.”
    • (37:52) – “You’re definitely going to learn academic skills with an app. What you’re not going to learn is how to engage with a person, look at someone, negotiate ‘oh, can we color?’ And those are the skills that a child needs when they’re in preschool and when they’re in kindergarten.”
  • There will always be value in screen-free play

Social Emotional Skills Suffer Without Face-to-Face Interaction

  • The pandemic is limiting opportunities for development
  • Technology is bridging the gap, but it’s not a perfect substitute
    • (38:13) – “Social emotional skills is a big thing these days and Daniel Tiger probably does the best job of that that I’ve ever seen.”
  • Children are missing the chance to grow with their peers
    • (40:37) – “In childhood education, kids get so much more out of being with other little people, right? Because those are the people they relate to.”


Autism Early Enrichment Services (NYC)

American Academy of Pediatrics


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Tao Moran is a special educator and play therapist with Autism Early Enrichment Services who provides one-on-one ABA in-home services to toddlers in the New York City area. She has a Masters degree in education from City University of New York- Herbert H. Lehman College and is certified in both birth-2nd and 1st-6th studies. Tao has a passion for early intervention, a love cultivated through raising her autistic son.