Understanding DIR/Floortime

My Project 9-001What is Floortime all about anyway?

This post (the first in a series) is about explaining what DIR/Floortime is, in ordinary parent language.  How does this approach to autism intervention help us understand our kids better, and what strategies does it offer?

 I write this as a parent who has gone through training in our local program, taken one online course, and done a lot of reading.  This is  my understanding of what DIR is all about – as a non-expert.  Questions and responses are welcome!

 First: What are the Ideas Behind the Approach?

Every therapy or educational method has some assumptions behind it.  It’s important to know what those are, because what we believe about our children directly affects the strategies we use to raise them.  What are the ideas about children and learning that are foundational to DIR?

  •  All children travel through the same developmental stages, and one step builds upon another.  Children with autism also go through these stages, but in some way autism has interrupted that developmental process.  So we need to find a way to get them back on track.
  • Learning is connected to emotions.  We all are able to learn when we are interested in something, when we have an emotional connection to those who are teaching us, when we are calm and able to give our attention to new information or challenges.  A stressed or worried child (or adult) is not able to learn well.  So it’s really important to establish positive relationships with our children.  Before they can learn, they need to be able to trust us and to feel safe and valued.
  • Each person has a unique learning profile.  Some are more active, some like to listen and watch first, some are more or less distracted by sensory input.  Paying attention to sensory needs and learning styles sets our kids up for success.
  • Learning is about making connections to what we already know or are interested in.  Effective learning starts with the child’s interests.  As children develop strong relationships with their families, new interest can be created  – children are interested in what people they care about are doing.  Learning does not go in a straight line.  New ideas are  best remembered when they are meaningful to the child.
  • Behavior is communication:  the actions of children are about expressing needs, interests, stresses as well as preferences and interests.  We need to be “detectives” to understand reasons for what children do or don’t want to do.
  • The role of a parent is sometimes a play partner (to build a relationship and stretch thinking) and sometimes a facilitator or problem-poser (to encourage problem-solving and competence).  There are, of course, times when direct guidance is most appropriate, but we want to take every opportunity to help our child to enjoy social interaction, to build on ideas and to solve problems for themselves.
  • Developing communication and social skills takes a lot of practice with interacting and communicating.  The journey should look like the intended destination.  If you want a child to communicate their needs, then their therapy time should provide opportunities and support towards meaningful communication.

 The ideas of DIR were put together by Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder; however, not all of the ideas are unique to them and in fact, most are shared by common understandings about early childhood development. Research on best inclusive educational practices echo many of the ideas in DIR.  The Hanen Program and Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) share many of these foundations as well.

Next post: The “I” in DIR: Knowing Your Kid