“Let’s help our children become the poets of their inner lives. “ -Stanley Greenspan (photo: Dr. Greenspan; DIRFloortime®)
Play is a voluntary activity and is differentiated from social skills training in which specialized skills are methodically taught. These skills are learned subtly through assistance and exchanges with others. Floor Time is based on child initiations that are supported by adults. In this model the child is the center of this universe.
The primary advantage of this model is that it allows children with autism spectrum disorders the opportunity to explore relationships with others on their own terms, without the imposition of adult demands.
Floortime therapy derives from the Developmental Individual-difference Relationship-based model (DIR) created by child psychiatrists Stanley Greenspan, M.D. and Serena Wieder, PhD. Its premise is that adults can help children expand their circles of communication by meeting them at their developmental level and building on their strengths. DIR® has a deep foundation in the science of human development and can sound very technical at times. However, it is also very simple. It is a way to understand our children and each other that builds connections, understanding, love, communication, and engagement. Through this approach, the true potential of each person can be discovered.
According to the organization Greenspan Floortime Approach, the technique challenges children with autism to push themselves to their full potential. It develops “who they are,” rather than “what their diagnosis says.”
Parents and floor–time therapists help children master the emotional milestones needed to develop a foundation for learning.
Greenspan’s Floortime offers an alternative play intervention for preschool age (1- 4 years) children with autism spectrum disorders. The Floortime model focuses on developing relationship. Interventions are designed according to the child’s developmental level and individual personalities.
Floortime has a two-pronged approach, which is orientated towards the child along with support from adults.
- It provides an opportunity to convert non-progressive repetitive play into more meaningful and progressively beneficial behavior, and works to expand the play themes of children with autism spectrum disorders.
- At the same time, it is designed to help the child develop relationships with others.
Opening and Closing the Circle of Communication:
When a child hands over a toy tea cup to her mother- she opens the circle. When the parent responds by pretending to sip or says thank you with a smile, she builds on the child’s action. When the child responds back by smiling or saying ‘you’re welcome’ the child has closed the circle. This two way communication between the parent and her child is the beginning of a dialog.
The parent can also start a new circle, for example the parent places a teddy bear next to her and asks ‘’can teddy join the tea party?’ or just stays silent-the child then responds with a smile or says ‘’yes’’.
Floortime can be used to change non-progressive repetitive behavior. For example, if a child is fixated on lining up blocks, the adult joins in and adds blocks to the child’s line. Then the adult may place a block perpendicular and start the line going in a different direction. When the child continues the new line, he/she has “closed the circle of communication.”
It may sound or seem very simple, but these simple little gestures and experiences make a child think and reason. She has realized that her actions have had an impact on the world and for the first time the little girl is starting to learn about herself, the world around her and how her actions intentionally lead to a reaction. She is thus learning fundamental emotional, cognitive, and motor lessons.
The DIR Floortime technique follows six steps:
- The adult observes the child playing in order to determine how to approach him/her.
- The adult approaches the child and joins the activity while trying to match the child’s emotional tone.
- The child directs the action and the adult follows the child’s lead.
- The adult expands on the child’s chosen play theme without being intrusive.
- When a child builds on the adult’s input, the child “closes the circle of communication” and starts a new circle.
- It is vital that the adult does not use Floor Time as a time to teach a particular skill. It is also important to remember that the child is the leader of the activity. The adult has to be an observer and surrender all control to the child.
One suggestion for Floortime includes introducing obstacles into play and helping the child problem-solve. If a child has very few play themes, it may be helpful to use sensory toys (e.g., sand tables, shaving cream, bubbles) or use popular characters that the child enjoys, capturing his attention.
Although the DIRFloortime model does not address social interaction with peers, children still learn a variety of skills that are essential for emotional growth, also since this model is an early intervention strategy that aims to improve the quality of play skills in young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders(ASD).