Today we are discussing one of the biggest challenges for many caregivers who choose DIR/Floortime for their children with developmental differences. Returning guest, DIR Expert Training Leader, psychologist Ira Glovinsky has a background in psychology and special education and runs The Glovinsky Center for the Child and Family in West Bloomfield, Michigan.
Early Social-Emotional Capacities with Dr. Ira Glovinsky
Dr. Gil Tippy has coined the term Foundation Academics which is the essential social-emotional pre-cursors to academics. In today’s podcast we’re focusing on how caregivers come to grips with realizing that their children might not be ready for a typical school experience and academic learning. Most experience a sense of urgency after their pre-schooler’s diagnosis to ‘catch them up’ and get them ready for school, but in many cases, this does not happen on the timeline that they are anticipating.
Dr. Glovinsky points out that there is a tremendous emphasis on teaching children cognitive skills and drilling them. The problem that really isn’t in focus yet, but is getting in focus, is that emotionality drives so many areas of functioning in child development. In a child who experiences over- or under-arousal, it’s like when we used to watch television in between channels where you would just see static.
The way emotional dysregulation affects very young children is that it interferes with being able to process information clearly. Dr. Glovinsky is working with a private school district training teachers on the importance of emotional regulation before introducing academics. Schools expect children to sit and be compliant. When and if they actually do focus on emotional regulation, they tend to try to teach social-emotional skills, which you cannot teach. These capacities develop through relationships.
Dr. Glovinsky says that psychologist Susan Calkins has a model that he holds in mind in evaluating and working with children. Where you start on the developmental level is with our physiology. We have differences in emotional reactivity. We have differences in arousal and thresholds where we get overwhelmed by input.
As discussed in our podcast with Dr. Glovinsky last year, what we do culturally from a very early age is focus on function in terms of academics. A child going into Kindergarten gets coached on the ABCs as opposed to the relationship that we have and what’s going on between us. When he asks parents why they spend so much time on training academics, they tend to say that’s what they’re supposed to do because that’s what they were taught. They say their kids have to know the ABCs and how to count to be successful in school.
The link is on meaning. We process information through our sensory systems. We take in information through all of our senses most of the time. But, you have to give that sensory input meaning. The second step in information processing is giving meaning to the input. What Dr. Glovinsky sees with very young kids in early elementary grades is that they don’t have the capacity to develop the meaning, so all of this cognitive information is coming in and it’s floating on an iceberg but isn’t connected to anything.
What is often labelled as misbehaviour in schools is really a signal from a child that says “I’m having trouble“. When we experience anxiety we might be feeling guilt or shame. Then we move to actions which might be breaking pencils or falling off my chair. What’s in front of you is an anxious child and if the child just poked the child in front of them, or getting up and walking around the room is a signal that this child is having a hard time understanding what I’m saying.
Dr. Glovinsky will get calls to observe a child in a classroom. He will sometimes say to the teacher that the child is really anxious. The teacher will say that they see the child as misbehaving which evokes in them an uncomfortable feeling which pushes them to some negative action. But when they hear the word anxious, they have a different body feeling from when I see behaviour. When they hear anxious, it makes them want to help the child instead of sending them to the principal’s office. Dr. Stuart Shanker’s self-reg helps inform school staff in this way.
A child can’t learn in an academic setting unless they’re emotionally regulated, the first Functional Emotional Developmental Capacity (FEDC) in DIR/Floortime. It just doesn’t work. And moving forward to the higher FEDCs, the process of mentalization is necessary to learn. It’s about having pictures in your mind. This is being able to think symbolically and abstractly, which only comes with developing the early social-emotional developmental capacities.
Until next week… here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!