How DIR/Floortime Can Support Children with Autism

"Awareness simply means to acknowledge that Autism exists; Acceptance is to acknowledge its value."

The DIR/Floortime model (Developmental, Individual-difference, Relationship-based (DIR) Floortime model was developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan and Dr. Serena Wieder to support children with Autism. This child-directed and adult-supported play therapy focuses on children’s social-emotional engagement by targeting the natural emotions and reactions of the child as they’re happening. By observing a child’s strengths and interests regarding the type of play they’re interested in such as sensory, object or symbolic play, therapists or caregivers can then approach the child, imitate what the child is doing and attempt to engage the child by matching the activity they’re engaging in. For example, if a child shows excitement with a favorite sensory toy (bubbles) and giggles when the bubbles pop, the parent or therapist can then proceed in imitating the child’s emotional and vocal tone when popping their own bubbles.

What is important to consider with DIR/Floortime is that caregivers, parents and therapists are not intrusive, but allow for the child to direct how the play unfolds. Another consideration is that DIR/Floortime should not be used to target specific skills, or to teach new skills, but more as a holistic approach that can be used with more formal ABA programs.

By far, sensory play is one of the most widely used and preferred play methods for children with Autism because sensory play not only engages tactile (such as playing with floam or shaving cream), but can engage proprioceptive (i.e. deep pressure or heavy weights) and vestibular (spins). When considering using sensory play for DIR/Floortime, parents or therapists may enrich the environment ahead of time with a lot of sensory options, then allow the child to choose what they want to play with. Adults can then imitate with use of parallel play while engaging the child to take notice. For example, if a child begins a circle of communication by grabbing a handful of sensory beans, the parent or therapist can then grab a handful of beans in their hand and “sprinkle” them inside the sensory tub. The child can then complete the circle of communication by taking another handful of beans to play with.

Since children with Autism and other special needs often engage in “stim” behaviors, some toys may not be used functionally. For example, a child may line up cars instead of pushing them. A parent or therapist can watch the child lining up the cars, then take their own car to line up in the row. In turn, the child may continue this by now lining up another car. The caregiver or therapist can then use their car to “park” it along a wall, or to roll it while making “vroom” noises. If the child continues with “vroom” noises or “parks” their own car, it’ suggested that the child has completed a circle of communication, with the child leading more play.

Skills like eye contact, circles of communication and increasing total time appropriately playing can be informally targeted by parents or therapists while engaging in DIR/Floortime, which ideally can transfer over to more formal programs. Through DIR/Floortime, children are learning valuable socialization and communication skills using a more relaxed and holistic approach to engaging children with special needs. Speak to your ABA team to see if DIR/Floortime is a good match to add to your child’s ABA program.

References

Boshoff, K., Bowen, H., Paton, H., Cameron-Smith, S., Graetz, S., Young, A., & Lane, K. (2020). Child Development Outcomes of DIR/Floortime TM-based Programs: A Systematic Review. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy. Revue Canadienne d’ergotherapie, 87(2), 153–164.

Greenspan, S. I., & Wieder, S. (2006). Engaging autism: Using the floortime approach to help children relate, communicate, and think. PA: Da Capo Press.

Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning. (n.d.). DIRFloortime. Retrieved from https://www.icdl.com/

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