kids playing games

The DPK model utilizes sensory integration strategies within the Integrated Play Groups® (Developed by Pamela Wolfberg format and a balanced partnership is created. We have combined core elements from both practices into the model:

Core Elements of Sensory Integration

  • Provide a “just right” challenge
  • Play context
  • Support optimal arousal
  • Provide an engaging environment
  • Allow for child directed activities
  • Create opportunities for a variety of sensory experiences
  • Maximize a child’s success

Core Elements of Integrated Play Groups®

  • Mutually enjoyed play experience
  • Experts and novices
  • Highly motivating activities
  • Small groups
  • Trained adult facilitator
  • Guided participation

Throughout the process, play is recognized not only as a vehicle to learning and development, but as a most meaningful part of childhood that enables children to simply have fun and make friends.

The inability to process information properly restricts play skills and makes it virtually impossible for a child with ASD to interact appropriately with peers. The DPK model changes all that!

The Integrated Play Groups®

The program allows guided participation in play for children who encounter problems entering into imaginative and social play activities. This program supports children who have limited play skills (novice players) in mutually enjoyed play activities with their peers. The program offers natural opportunities for children to make friendships and learn through play.

Each novice player is partnered one or two times per week with 2 neurotypical peers. The partnerships will remain the same throughout the school year.

Play becomes a balanced partnership when sensory integration and integrated playgroups are combined.

Each week over 100 students from the regular education program on our campus (“expert players”) join DPK clients in facilitated peer play groups. At DPK we have facilitated more than 6,000 play groups in our thirteen year partnership with Redeemer Lutheran School. The program has been a model for schools throughout the United States.


We have continued our research efforts on the DPK model in collaboration with San Jose State University under the guidance of Pamela Richardson, MS,OTR, Ph.D.

Several different research studies were completed spring (2006) support the efficacy of the SI-IPG intervention.


The purpose of the research was to evaluate the efficacy of our model at Developmental Pathways for Kids: Combining sensory integration and Integrated Play Groups® (IPG) to facilitate peer play for children with sensory processing difficulties.

A chart review of 33 children with ASD who were currently receiving the SI-IPG intervention at Developmental Pathways for kids found significant improvements in:

  • Social dimension of play (p=.007)
  • Rate of social intiation and responsiveness (p=.08)
  • Quality of social interaction-responsiveness (p=.014)
  • Fine motor skills (p=.039)
  • Gross motor skills (p=.026)

Results showed that participants in the SI/IPG play groups demonstrated statistically significant change in initiation of play, positive peer play responses, self regulation improved and significant changes were noted in the novice’s social dimension of play. Additionally, parents rated the SI/IPG play experience as one of the top three interventions utilized for their children.

Parent Interview Findings:

  • more engaged with siblings
  • increase initiations with siblings
  • more imaginative play observed
  • overall positive changes in social behaviors noted in the home


The purpose of the research was to determine the effect of participation in an IPG for the EXPERT player.

Survey of experts found:
  • 90% said they felt good about what they did in playgroup
  • 80% said they had fun
  • 70% said they were almost always good at helping others
  • 60% said they almost always learned how to help kids play


Purpose: to determine the effects of IPG participation for expert players as perceived by their teachers.

Perceived benefits to expert players:
  • Increased fine motor skills
  • Increased social skills
  • Increased self-esteem, image and confidence
  • Increased compassion, caring,patience, tolerance and understanding of differences in others
  • Greater quality of friendships among expert players

This study was presented the summer of 2007at the National AOTA Conference in Sydney, Australia.

Conclusion: Combining SI and IPG allows therapists to carefully craft ways in which to engage children in play experiences that are not only developmentally appropriate and therapeutic in nature, but also reflect the natural play experiences of neurotypical children. By blending practices, children are afforded opportunities to perform and master a host of necessary skills to acquire social competence, effective communication, adaptive behavior and flexible imagination. With explicit structure and support, they learn how to attend, observe, follow, initiate, share space and materials, coordinate actions and carry out pretend play scripts with peers. Throughout this process, play is recognized not only as a vehicle to learning and development, but as a most meaningful part of childhood that enables children to simply have fun and make friends.