The final week of our back-to-school series brings you a follow-up to last week’s blog about process-oriented learning. We asked some DIR Expert Training Leaders and school practitioners about providing Floortime at different developmental capacities. Here’s what they had to say.

Maude Le Roux of A Total Approach in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania provides some examples of how she would follow a child’s lead if a child wants to lock her up in jail in a play session.

If the child is working at the fourth functional emotional developmental capacity (FEDC 4) of social problem-solving, Maude might figure out with the child how to build the jail, working on visual-spatial processing and motor planning which is an important aspect of FEDC 4.

For a child at FEDC 5 where the child is entering symbolic thinking and imaginary play, Maude would say, “I’m scared to go to jail, I don’t want to go to jail!” working on the jump from understanding different emotions to embodying the emotions and being able to distinguish between your own and those of another person. By putting any anxiety the child has into herself on display so the chlid can see and figure out what she does when she’s scared, the child begins to get practice at perspective-taking.

Then for a child working at FEDC 6, Maude would say “No! You put me in jail last week… I think you should go to jail this week!” and follow up with, “You better give me a very good reason to put me in jail!” to work on logical reasoning and thinking. She facilitates compromising on how she can follow the child’s plan.

Jackie Bartell whose podcast a couple weeks back discussed implementing DIR into a public school, provided some examples for us as well. She was playing dinosaurs with two children: one at the second developmental capacity (FEDC 2: Engaging and relating), and one at the fourth/fifth (FEDC 4: Shared problem-solving and FEDC 5: Creating emotional ideas).

The children were ‘being’ dinosaurs. The child at FEDC 4/5 was coming after Jackie as a dinosaur with claws out and knocked her over. She replied “Oww, you’re hurting me!” while still making “kkkhhhh” dinosaur sounds at the FEDC 2 child.

The FEDC 4/5 child then came up to Jackie and said, “C’mon, dinosaur!” and pulled her in to play the way he wanted her to play. Jackie had to watch, wait and wonder to determine what developmental capacities the children were at and then modify her responses to each. The two children were also sharing attention with each other, as dinosaurs.

Jackie has another example of making ‘vegetable soup’ with a kindergarten class. Some of the students were able to sort the vegetables by colour. But some weren’t able to share attention (FEDC 2), so they were given two choices while holding a broccoli, to put it into the green bin or the red bin. Her expectation in that moment is not whether to sort it or not, but it’s sharing attention to put it in the bin together. So she’ll ask, “Where does your green broccoli go? Here’s green…let’s do it together.

Next they have to figure out the soup recipe. She will ask “What do we do now?” then, “What do we do next?” while looking at the picture steps of the recipe. Some might begin to add the vegetables and say, “Oh, we need salt!” so she’ll say, “Ok where’s the salt?

But for the children who can’t yet sequence the steps of doing the recipe, she needs to scaffold their shared attention and engagement. Jackie here might hold out the salt and make a gasp, then together, with the child, put the salt in the soup.

She is scaffolding their shared attention by having a moment together where they’re going to put this salt in the soup. For a child who’s at FEDC 3 (Intentionality and Two-Way Communication), she might hold up the salt and some paint and ask, “Paint or salt? Hmm…

Saying “What’s next?” to the child who isn’t yet at FEDC 4 (shared problem-solving) is coming at the child at a developmental capacity that is higher than (s)he can handle. When (s)he can’t figure it out, (s)he might move on to another activity, or you might see ‘behaviour’. So in the moment, the key is to wait, watch, and wonder to figure out where the child is in this moment, and what do you have to do to accommodate the child where they are at (developmentally).

Suggestions for Activities at Different Developmental Capacities

Melanie Mendes at Oakwood Academy offered us some suggestions for activities with children with differing developmental capacities:

Working on regulation and shared attention (FEDC 1) and engagement and relating (FEDC 2)

  • Slow, linear swinging in the sensory gym while using affect to facilitate emotional interactions such as gasping as the child approaches you, or pointing and quietly pointing ‘up’ as the child swings up.
  • Running cars up and down the student’s back as a regulation tool, making calming “vroom vroom” sounds and making a surprised face or smiling in anticipation when stopping and then starting again when the child changes position, expression, or communicates verbally or non-verbally.

Working on intentionality and two-way communication (FEDC 3)

  • During enjoyable swinging in the sensory gym, waiting on the child’s response as they swing towards you, asking if they want to go slow or fast, low or high.
  • Playing cars alongside a child, driving by and asking, “Hey? Can I follow you?” or, “Which way should I drive? Forwards or backwards?” and playfully obstructing by driving in front of their car blocking their route.

Working on shared social problem-solving (FEDC 4)

  • Working together to come up with a plan of how to get the swing up on the hook in the sensory gym.
  • Working together to find the missing cars we want to play with.

Working on symbolic ideas (FEDC 5)

  • Imagining that the swing is a boat and we’re going on an exciting adventure. “Be careful! It could be a bumpy ride!
  • Using street lights (red, yellow, green) as a visual representation of emotions to express how we are feeling.

Working on logical thinking (FEDC 6)

  • Pondering how we went on an adventure to South America yesterday and the day before, so let’s try Europe today because I’m bored of going to the same place all the time!
  • Noticing that my friend‘s car is in the red zone because he doesn’t like rain and he’s mad, but that I’m in the green zone because I like playing in puddles.

If you found this blog post enlightening or helpful, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter below, or leaving us a comment in the Comments section below.

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

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