Last week we helped you determine your child’s sensory profile, or part of their individual differences (‘I’). We need to keep these differences in mind in every interaction with your child and especially in Floortime.

The next step in starting Floortime with your child will involve using the DIR/Floortime checklist to determine where your child is developmentally (‘D’). This will help you target your interactions with your child within your warm, safe, and nurturing relationship (‘R’).

Recall that neurotypical children acquire these functional emotional developmental capacities from birth through to age 4 or 5, but in children with developmental differences they may or may not happen differently, at a much slower rate and/or much later.

Take a look at the basic checklist by clicking the link in the box below and it should give you a general idea of what your child is capable of, at least for some of the time. Children can have some capacities in many of the stages but not all of the time, so there are gaps in development that we aim to fill in over time.

Click here to see the Functional Emotional Developmental Capacities basic chart

Look at the first functional emotional developmental capacity (FEDC). We want to facilitate regulation, shared attention and interest between you and your child. In order to do this, we need to know in what environment the child is most comfortable.

If certain sensations are unpleasant for your child, they will find it too difficult to share attention with you because they will be distracted and won’t be able to regulate their emotions. They will seem to be unavailable to us because they are struggling to process sensory input.

This stage is often the greatest challenge for parents. However, Dr. Greenspan never met a child they couldn’t engage in some way. You should know best how to comfort your child and avoid what sets them off. If you don’t, you need to keep searching, as described in detail a few weeks ago.

Shared attention and regulation is the cornerstone for doing Floortime with a child in the DIR model. It is very challenging to move a child along developmentally if they are finding it too challenging to share attention with us and remain regulated.

This does not mean that if your child is always having meltdowns, you cannot ever facilitate moments of higher developmental capacities. It just means that you need to promote higher capacities only in the moments when your child is available for shared attention and regulated.

So for many of us, the bulk of time with our children will be finding ways to help them feel safe and regulated in order to share attention with us. For now let’s just note how often your child seems to feel regulated and how often you get moments of shared attention with them.

  • Please note that information on this website is not meant to be taken as professional advice and is for illustrative purposes only. Please consult with a professional for specific recommendations for your own child.

I want to stress how important the first capacity of feeling safe and regulated is in DIR/Floortime. Constrictions at this first capacity will follow children with developmental differences throughout their school years and will make it very difficult for them to be comfortable in a school setting and other social settings which are not set up to their individual profiles.

It should be the cornerstone of all you do with your child at home and the most important factor raised with your child’s school so they can also have the tools to help your child each day.

Please don’t let this overwhelm you, but rather empower you. Once you learn how to help your child with their regulation, you will gain confidence and it will become a routine in your life.

Sometimes respecting the child’s need for movement (‘I’) to support the first developmental capacity of regulation is enough to get the shared attention required to playfully promote back-and-forth interactions. It gives the child the vestibular input their body is craving in order to feel at ease so they can focus on other things.

In the coming weeks, we’ll show you many examples of how to support your child’s regulation. The key here is to keep in mind that this is always your main goal in DIR/Floortime.

See the photo of the boy playing in the sand. He seems very at ease and regulated, however with our children we want to see if they’d remain just as happy playing alone if nobody was with him. 

While we certainly want to allow our children alone time to explore, it’s also important for us to playfully entice our children to share what they’re experiencing with us and interact with us.

You can never spend too much time interacting with your child in a Floortime way, which promotes their capacities for relating and communicating with others.

This does not mean that if your child is enjoying calming sensory-based play that you should dysregulate them if they seem distressed by your attempts to interact. 

Boy playing in sand

Instead, find a respectful, playful and enjoyable way to join them in what they are doing once they have enjoyed their regulating, sensory play.

Dr. Greenspan also suggested getting a neighbourhood teenager or other family members who can appreciate your child’s individual differences and respectfully interact with them to play with your child if you are busy.

We won’t get into details of the other functional emotional developmental capacities until we begin to talk about what to do in Floortime. But for now you can make note of what capacities you see your child exhibiting in each stage from the checklist because that will be important going forward.

In the coming weeks we’ll talk about actually doing Floortime. We’ll start next week by using the information about individual differences and shared attention & regulation to start a Floortime session.

Until next week, here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!

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