I often hear parents say that they have a hard time finding examples of how to do Floortime with an adolescent or young adult. We’ve provided a few references to Floortime with adolescents including the introduction of the Threshold Community Program, here with Dr. Andrea Davis and colleagues’ book User’s Guide to the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) ModelFloortime for children, adolescents, and young adults, and in scattered examples from Dr. Stanley Greenspan‘s writings here and here.
This week I am very lucky to be able to share with you a video of a father and his 18-year-old son doing Floortime. Dad is relatively new to Floortime and has been receiving parent coaching in the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model. He is really working on engaging and interacting with his son: the early social-emotional developmental capacities. I think you’ll see that he’s quite a natural at it!
It’s very evident in this video that Dad and son have a very safe, warm, nurturing Relationship in tact. You can see the connection as they share a lot of eye contact and laughter together.
The ‘D’ for Development
Today’s adolescent has challenges at all six core functional emotional developmental capacities (FEDCs). At the first capacity of Shared Attention and Regulation, he tends to be under-aroused and very low key which can make sharing attention challenging. He can get overwhelmed by loud noises and certain anxiety-provoking situations cause him to dysregulate. In order to engage him at the second capacity of Engagement and Relating, Dad joins his son in what he’s interested in/what he’s doing and uses large and demonstrative affect to achieve and maintain connection.
The third capacity of Purposeful emotional interactions is especially challenging because of his son’s history of ABA (applied behaviour analysis) and other behaviour-based therapies and interactions. It has resulted in his son always waiting on others to lead an interaction or provide direction and instructions. Thus, he does not tend to initiate interactions and waits for his parents to guide him. So a goal for this Dad was certainly to build up the engagement in order to begin working on back-and-forth affective reciprocal interactions in order to get his son to a place where he will be interested in communicating his needs and initiating social interactions with others when he cares to do so.
The ‘I’ for Individual differences
Our adolescent, like all individuals, has a unique sensory processing profile and set of individual differences. He lives with his parents and attends public school in a moderate special needs classroom and takes the bus to school. He has low muscle tone, challenges with motor planning and sequencing/praxis, and various sensitivities in the other sensory systems. He also suffers from a seizure disorder which often overrides everything else. When he becomes self-absorbed he tends to have more seizures, despite his medication, so his parents sought Floortime to work on the engagement and relating as part of his seizure prevention strategy.
The ‘R’ for Relationship
This Relationship is the key to success in Floortime. Through the security of the relationship, the son will trust his parents and their genuine attempts to share joy through engaging and interacting with him. The relationship will allow them to challenge him developmentally as he is ready to relate and communicate with them in more and different ways, and across different contexts. This is the key to helping him then be able to relate and communicate with others, as he has expressed an interest in having friends outside of school.
Strengths Throughout the video, what stuck out to me more than anything was how attuned Dad was to his son, checking in with him to see what he might be experiencing in the moment. Another thing that jumped out at me was how Dad is so nicely changing things up in the interaction while keeping with the same activity. This is the challenge and expand part of Floortime. And notice how much the son stays engaged and connected through it all! This is likely due to Dad’s wonderful use of affect throughout the video!
Dad shows great natural affect when he’s cueing his son by shaking the basket and saying “Oh… oh… oh!” and “Woo… woo… woo“. It’s clear by the son’s big, broad smiles that he loves engaging with his Dad. It’s also clear that the son knows what’s going on in his own head and is restricted by his body. So with Dad’s support to get more interactive back-and-forth communication going, his son can learn more and more how to relate and communicate what’s inside of him.
Challenges Near the beginning when we see the son in a stupor with the ball in the air, we want to watch for what is happening right before he finds himself in that place to get some clues as to why. We will see that he’s struggling throwing. This is likely a motor planning struggle. Here, it’s important for Dad to remember in the future to keep his analysis–which was not intentional on his part–to himself because when he says “You can do better than that!“, his son hears “You can’t do it.” And this is due to the motor planning.
Tips for next time With all of Dad’s great affect, engagement and attuned attention, he can always slow it down to stretch out the interactions. Dad can do this by waiting, watching, and wondering a lot more. Instead of asking questions such as “What should we do now?” and “Are you going to pick it up or should I?“, which are fine, Dad could just wait to see what his son does. Dad could have a puzzled look on his face or say “Hmm…“
The more practice Dad gives his son interacting with him–first by responding and offering choices to his son, the more likely it will be that his son will initiate more interactions as well. This will lead to the continuous flow of back-and-forth non-verbal and verbal communication which is a pre-cursor to social problem-solving, having emotional ideas and more complex symbolic and logical thinking. And to do this, Dad has to continue to join and attune to his son, share those joyful experiences, and foster that interaction between them that we saw in the video.
There could be some who watch this video and say “They aren’t doing anything! He’s not learning anything!” This is a short-sighted comment. The DIR model looks at the whole person and their development, taking into account their individual differences that affect how they relate and communicate–which can sometimes look like ‘behaviour‘.
As discussed many, many times on this site and in the podcasts, what’s so important–especially for older adolescents or young adults–is helping them with their early social-emotional capacities for relating and communicating. Not only is it more valuable than anything else they could be learning, but it is an essential pre-cursor for them to be able to use other skills they have to interact in the world, and to share themselves and their learning with the world.
Thank you to DIR Expert Training Leader Jackie Bartell for her input into the content of this blog post.
Until next week… here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!