This week we’re talking about a practice in Floortime. Scaffolding is a technique common in developmental practices and teaching. Scaffolding means that you support your child, providing just enough assistance to ensure (s)he is successful at a completing a task him/herself, without ‘doing the work’ for him/her. Let’s discuss how it works!

We have discussed how we want to support our child up the developmental ladder in Floortime. We are referring to helping our children master the six core functional emotional developmental capacities. So when we set aside time to play with our child in a Floortime session, we always want to work with this ladder of capacities in mind.

We always want to meet the child where (s)he is at developmentally. But from here we also want to work at the zone of proximal development. This is the place where the child’s potential development lies.

Here the skill is too difficult for the child to do independently, but (s)he can successfully complete it with support and guidance. So we scaffold by adding in prompts or support until the child is successful, without making it hard enough that lose the child’s interest.


Our son’s therapists challenge him when he wants to use materials in the sensory gym. There is a lyrcra swing, a hard board swing, rings, and a ladder that all attach to the ceiling. He knows how it works: you unhook the clips, take one down, put the next one up, but he tells them to do it.

This is where scaffolding comes in. They will play clueless and say “Hmm… what do we need to do?” and continue to challenge him until he comes up with the next plan. If he is about to lose interest and move on because the challenge is too much, they’ll jump in with high affect and make a suggestion such as “I think we need a step to reach it!

As long as the child is still motivated, you can keep the challenge going! The key is to maintain high affect to continue to entice the child to come up with the next plan and act on it. So once they stand up on a step they reach up and play clueless again until our son will communicate verbally or gesturally to unhook whatever is up there, or hook the new swing, or rings on.

A Review of Our Plan in a Floortime Session
  1. Set up the environment to support your child’s sensory profile and self-regulation.
  2. Observe what your chlid is doing and then follow his/her lead by joining him/her in what (s)he is doing.
  3. Engage the child with affect using facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, sounds, etc. about what is happening.
  4. Entice the child into an interaction with a challenge by using techniques such as acting confused if they want something from you or playful obstruction if it is difficult to maintain engagement.
  5. Expand the interaction by changing up one thing or adding in one new element.
  6. Maintain the interaction by repeating all the previous steps as required to keep a reciprocity going between you and the child. The whole while we are waiting and giving the child time to respond to us, slowing and stretching out the interactions, and enticing (rather than directing) the child to initiate interactions with us. We want to achieve a continuous flow of back-and-forth communication between you while having fun together.

When you are following your child’s interest, the child is motivated to get what they want. In the example, our son may have wanted to have the red rings up to swing on so he is very motivated to get them hooked up there. The therapists can use this interest of his to motivate him to communicate his wishes by breaking it down into easy steps and scaffold all the way through to the last step.

Another example might be our son trying to go across the monkey bars at the park. His father knows he is motivated to do what he saw the other kids do, but it’s hard for him. So Dad holds him and helps him along. But if Dad challenges him too much, he will drop and run to the slide, giving up. Dad encourages him, instructs him, holds him but lets him feel the weight of his body hanging as well.

The first time, Dad might be holding him tightly and firmly and might help him move his hands. The next time, Dad might hold him less tight, and not move his hands. The first two times our son might give up after two bars. The next time as he experiences little successes, he might go four bars and Dad might hold him loosely so he feels his weight. Eventually Dad might only hold his hands and let him fall (safely). As long as our son is motivated, we will scaffold until he is successful on his own.

Scaffolding is an important technique to use because when we give our children a chance to feel success, they are motivated to continue. They feel success when they have done something themselves rather than us doing it for them. But when it’s too difficult, having that support to help guide them along is the difference between giving up and persisting.

How have you used scaffolding with your child? What worked and what didn’t? Did you notice your child’s gleam in the eye as (s)he came up with a new idea to contribute to getting what they wanted? Please let us know in the Comments section below…

Until next time… here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!

Sign up for our updates

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP You can be assured that we will not share your information.