You are new to Floortime and want to know how to start. What is it? What do I do with my child? Here’s a 10-step overview to get you started and on your way to having fun with your child in order to help his or her development.

1. Floortime is about connecting with your child in the present moment

Being present is 99% of what Floortime is about. It means tuning in to your child’s present state. Observe what your child is doing and what interests them. Forget about behaviour, agendas, or teaching. What is your child experiencing in this moment?

For example, your child might be laying on the floor pushing a car or train back and forth. This tells you that there is something soothing about this activity that your child enjoys. You want to try to tune in to this interest and relate to this feeling of satisfaction your child derives from this activity.

2. You need to know how your child’s nervous system processes incoming sensory information

In order to do this, you must understand what affects your child’s ability to take in information through their senses. Is your child sensitive to loud noises? Does your child get easily distracted by a lot of visual stimulation? Does your child pull back when you try to hug them? Does your child constantly crave pressure against their body?

All of these things can affect how your child behaves in any given moment. If you want to be present with your child in the moment, you have to be aware of what could be distracting them. Your child may not have the ability to filter out certain sensory information the way we can. Your child might also not be in control of their need for sensory stimulation, such as the need to move their body in space.

3. Set up the environment

Based on what you know about your child, set up a play space that is comforting to your child without any electronics around. It’s not too loud, it’s not too bright or too dark, it feels safe, there are no distractions, and there is something or a few things your child enjoys at hand. Then you want to be on the floor with your child, at roughly the same eye level.

You might find that Floortime works best outside in the backyard. The bathtub can be a great place for Floortime for children who love water play as some children find the bath a very calming place to be. The place is less important than the fun, engagement and interactions you get with your child.

4. Join the child

Once you are aware of what state your child is in, you want to try to get an interaction with your child. The first step is to join the child in whatever they are doing. If your child is pushing the car back and forth, you get your own car and push it back and forth. If your child is running aimlessly around the room, you run aimlessly around the room.

5. Have fun

Next try to make what you’re doing fun! I recently saw a great example of this. A boy was laying snug between some mats on a floor holding a car. A Floortimer made “Vroom vroom” noises and drove another little car around the child and along the child’s body, stopped at his face and said an enthusiastic “Oh hi!” He continued doing this until the child started to anticipate it and replied with “Oh hi!” before he did.

6. Use high affect

Using high affect simply means exaggerate your expression with the goal to connect. So in the last example, the Floortime practitioner was emphatically and enthusiastically ‘vrooming’ the car around and very excitedly saying “Oh hi!” His eyes were bright and he was very ‘into it’ in order to connect with a child who seemed unresponsive.

Another example could be a child who likes balls and the parent hold a ball up high in the air with a huge look of surprise and gasping in anticipation of what will happen when the ball is bounced. For other children who are wound up and perhaps up-regulated, we can use subdued, soothing, slower, calm affect to connect, which will avoid overwhelming the child.

The key is to be authentic in your affect/emotional expression/gesturing. If we come off as ‘acting’ we are showing the child that we must act to connect with others. Rather, we want to entice the child with genuine, warm affect that makes it desirable for them to connect with us.

7. Keep aiming for engagement and interaction

When you show the child that you have interest in what motivates them, they will begin to trust you. This is your window into the child’s emotional world. Entering this emotional world is how you engage and relate with your child. When you make being with you fun, the child wants to be a part of your shared world.

In the “Oh hi!” example, the Floortime practitioner kept it going. He wanted that interaction with the child. Rather than simply entertaining the child by driving the car around, he paused and waited near the child’s face with each lap until the child looked or said “Oh hi!” in order to make sure the child was engaging and interacting with him.

8. Present a challenge

Once you get a good flow going where you and your child are having fun in the present moment and are tuned in to each other, you want to challenge the child to avoid memorization. If your fun is running along with your child, you might stop and block the child from passing–without touching the child–by putting your arms out like a safety patrol. Now the challenge is for the child to have to pass around you on the side.

Perhaps you and your child are driving cars back and forth. Your challenge is to drive up in front of your child’s car and block their way. The child has to drive the car around you. Little challenges like this should not frustrate the child to the point of tantrum, but just in a silly, playful way so they change up what they are doing in response to your challenge.

9. Add something new 

Once you have all of this fun happening, you can start to add in something new by doing something a little different each time. If you are driving your cars, you can drive over to some furniture and drive your car up the sofa, for instance. If you are having fun, your child will notice and maybe do the same. Next you could make your car drive backwards. The possibilities are endless.

10. Allow all emotional expressions and accept all behaviour as communication

Whatever emotional outbursts or behaviours your child exhibits is a clue to you into your child’s emotional world. Allow for their expression. Unless your child is harming themself or someone else, it’s important to give your child the space for emotional expression. Empathize with what they are experiencing rather than drawing your own conclusions that might involve false assumptions.

Floortime is about connecting and sharing joy with your child in the present moment to facilitate their development. It’s about building a relationship with your child that is respectful and trusting. It’s about empathy and guidance. If you found this Quickstart Guide helpful, please Share it using the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and please tell us your experiences in the Comments section below.

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

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