A few months ago I spoke with Jake Greenspan about doing Floortime all day, anywhere. He gave me some suggestions to work on with my son in our play to promote my son’s ability to come up with new ways to respond rather than getting stuck in scripting. Today we’ll take a look at how I implemented these suggestions.

Recall from that podcast that my job as a parent is to challenge and respond in new ways so that my child can come up with a new idea. The key is helping the child feel in control. When children are less anxious we can do more problem-solving. The goal is for him to become flexible by coming up with new ideas and new steps.

In today’s video here, I tried to apply the tips that Jake gave me on giving my son the opportunity to respond in new ways and to expand the interaction not just verbally, but physically as well.

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The example provided about my son was how he wanted to ask me over and over what kind of train each of the trains he held up to me was, even though he knew the answer. Jake pointed out that he doesn’t yet have the tools for social exchange so we have to help him out. So I attempted to apply Jake suggestions by using a few different techniques.

New Ways to Challenge

At the beginning of the video you’ll see my son starts with the scripted question, “What-a kind of train this is, Mama?” and after I answer him, I question him with a challenge: “But where’s it gonna go today?” Since this is a new response on my part, he says “uhh…” and is thinking when I make a suggestion.

I request if I can drive the train “over there” and he says yes! So I take the train and drive it away from him in the air, making a “chugga chugga” noise. I check in with him and tell him that I’m going over bumpy hills as I make the train move up and down and then he decides this is too much for him screaming, “Put it down!” pointing to the couch.

I ask him for clarification, “put it there?” and he says yes, but I protest with affect saying it’s been there all day and wants to go somewhere else! My son suggests the table! Bingo! We already have a new and different response from him! I’m pleased, but decide to challenge him even more by suggesting a different place. When he calmly disagrees I calmly give in and he takes the train to put it on the table.

My son then moves it back to the couch. I took Jake’s suggestion here and became the voice of the train complaining “But I’ve been on the couch all day!” and my son was ok with this, but then quickly changed his mind and again headed back to the couch. So again I exclaimed, “Hey! Where are you putting me? I want to go back on the table!” and finally he responded in the new way and brought it to the table.

Playfully Persisting

You can see how I took the original idea of my son’s which is playing with his favourite trains (following his lead), but I changed the way I responded. Since he didn’t want the train to go to a new place, I suggested the idea of going to a new place, as Jake had suggested, and then took on the role of the train when even that was too hard.

After persisting only a little bit, my son was able to go with the new response, but I really had to prompt him. I wanted to see if my son could do more of the thinking and take some initiative. So with the next train, when he wanted it to go to the table like the first train, I–as the train–said I wanted to go somewhere new and I waited for him to respond.

He suggested a new place, but again tried to get the train back to the table. I used more affect again as the train’s voice and he responded differently by putting the train at the new location. Then he tried twice to move the train back to the couch. After I took on the train’s voice, even making the train cry, I switched to my own voice narrating what the train said he wanted to do.

This was a little too much for my son who then emphatically ordered, “I want you to come sit!” while banging his hand on the couch, the way we usually play where he quizzes me on what kind of train each train is. This is the more comfortable and easier way for him. I respond in a very gentle and loving way that I don’t want to come sit on the couch and this time I took a moment to comment on his trains before asking where the next train should go.

Perspective Taking

This time he came up with a new idea of where it could go! Since he was still so engaged with me, I kept it going and asked which train I could drive. When he suggested one, I asked if I could drive a different one instead! I’m really trying not only to get him to respond in new and different ways, but also to try and see that I have a different perspective than he does which will help introduce theory of mind to him.

Imitation and Turn-Taking

I was thrilled to see that this time my son took the initiative and imitated what I had demonstrated with the first train. He drove the train through the air with the “chugga chugga” sound over to the new place, and then he initiated again by going to get another train to come to the same new place. So I asked him which one I could drive next–again, keeping him in control of the play like Jake had suggested.

Seeing, though, that he was now bringing a few trains over to this new place, I wanted to again respond differently to avoid a repetitive pattern, so I said I would bring my train that he gave me around a new way and drove all around the room to the new place. My son watched eagerly with excitement and looked intently at the train. And we continued variations of this a few more times.

In Control and Responding in New Ways 

Like Jake had predicted, our play session played out. I was able to take his suggestions and apply them successfully and it was fun! I responded gently when my son protested and clarified his concerns with him to let him know he was in control, but I did playfully persist to bring about a new response and pattern. We see in this video that he was able to be flexible in his responses because of where he is developmentally, and with a little playful persistence from his play partner.

I hope you found this follow up helpful and informative. It is always a learning process to figure out how to appropriately challenge your child respectfully. If you enjoyed today’s example or learned something you’d like to share, please consider sharing the post on Facebook or Twitter, and/or Commenting in the comments section below.

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

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