Most people who have heard about DIR/Floortime probably think about getting down on the floor and playing with your child. But the Floortime in the DIR/Floortime model is so much more than that.
Chapter 13 of Engaging Autism is entitled “Floortime as a Family Approach”. Dr. Greenspan makes such an obvious point that is overlooked in most approaches: a family with a child who has special needs is really a special needs family.
Certainly we and most other people I’ve met in our shoes have willingly rearranged and changed our entire lives based on wanting to support our child in any way they need.
How we behave and cope with the stress of having a child with special needs and all the accompanying challenges affects our child’s ability to feel at ease and self-regulated, engage, communicate, and problem-solve with us.
The material in this chapter and in my DIR® training was so insightful for me because as parents we experienced the frenzy of getting the diagnosis, then needing to find out what would help our child as soon as possible.
In the carousel of therapies and services we received, there was no mention of the family. It was always about the child.
And even when we discovered DIR/Floortime and had coaches come to our place, we didn’t think of it as a family approach.
I took that as my opportunity to do the dishes or have time to myself. We hired the therapist to do DIR/Floortime® with our son.
This is the downside to not having DIR/Floortime clinics here where all the services are under one DIR umbrella with a team working together for our children and where the family is taken into consideration.
By looking at family patterns, a good therapist—or even the families themselves—can see how each member plays out with each other and with the special needs child. There may be negative patterns at play that do not promote the best environment in which to promote the child’s development.
Dr. Greenspan’s solution to a very complex problem is to work towards the strengths. Expert DIR® therapists can coach the family members how to bring out the best in the child and in themselves. Dr. Greenspan explains it very well in this radio show below (or read the transcript HERE).
Working with Family Dynamics: Turning Challenges into Constructive Opportunities
This means being aware of your own weaknesses and not poking at your spouse’s weaknesses. There needs to be a conscious effort to avoid the negative patterns in order to help the child. This has been the hardest part for us.
To achieve this benefit, though, families have to be willing to open up to therapists and be honest about family patterns that can be quite personal.
The goal is to bring out the best not just in your child, but in each other when working with your child and in everyday family interactions.
And isn’t this a great goal for any family, let alone a family under the duress that we find ourselves under at all times with no break.
Whether it’s one parent being too directive or another doing too much for the child instead of appropriately challenging the child, the negative patterns can be consciously avoided with practice and coaching.
Read the transcript from Dr. Greenspan's radio show "The Developmental Approach to Family Functioning"
When I asked a very competent and experienced expert DIR trainer about why DIR/Floortime hasn’t been embraced more, the answer wasn’t what I expected, but makes sense. The reply was that it is just a fact that many parents are unable to go to that emotional place you need to go to to be available for your child, and thus ABA is easier for them.
On page 172 Dr. Greenspan says, “A child’s progress with a DIR/Floortime program requires parents who are emotionally very available”… “the heart of Floortime is the warmth and nurturing that you’re conveying to your child so he will want to play with you rather than retreat into his own world.”
Siblings should also be included in the mix by involving them in helping the child with special needs and showing them how they can contribute.
Many families do come together and connect in order to help the special needs child, but many other families are totally conflicted and bombarded by the diagnosis, competing with each other and arguing.
This has been a challenge in our household and we hope through the blog we can explore this topic in more detail with video examples so we can all learn together and share tips that help each other.
Dr. Greenspan urges families to ask for help if they are finding it difficult to cope or are not bringing out each other’s strengths: help not only from family and friends, but professional help or coaching in order to break the negative patterns.
Next week we will begin to get into how to implement a DIR/Floortime program for your child. We will start with helping you understand your child’s individual profile which affects everything else in the DIR approach.
Until next week, here’s to affecting autism!