More and more research is demonstrating what Dr. Stanley Greenspan and Dr. Stuart Shanker told us in The First Idea years ago: that we develop within emotional relationships with our primary caregivers. This development progresses as a result of emotional exchanges between child and caregiver, or as Floortime calls them, circles of communication. These affective reciprocal exchanges involve gestural and other non-verbal communication along with verbal communication.
In the stumbling blocks series of blogs, you read about promoting the back-and-forth continuous flow of interaction between you and your child. But why is this stressed so much in the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) Model?
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Circles of communication involve sending a communication, receiving a communication back, responding to it, and seeing the child responding back. The goal is to get a good rhythm of non-verbal, affective gesturing and emotional signalling between you and your child.
Often this happens because we have an agenda we are focused on rather than staying attuned in the moment with our child. If you are trying to get your child to do something or focused on your child learning something you are trying to show them, then it makes it hard for you to wait.
Does your child hit or scream to get what they want?
If your child hits or screams to get what they want, they have not yet developed the capacity to have a continuous back-and-forth flow with you in order to regulate and negotiate their needs using affective signalling. That is, they are missing out on all of the non-verbal cues that can guide behaviour. This capacity is essential to DIR/Floortime.
When the child isn’t staying on topic with us, we can use our affect to entice the child back into an interaction around the topic of interest of the child–not our own agenda. So if the child shows you an object indicating they are interested in playing with it, but then wanders away, you can say, “Hmm… I wonder what THIS does?!” or “Uh-oh! NOW what?!” You could put it on your head and say, “Look at THIS!“
Wandering Sometimes it is a challenge to stay in the interaction, which will lead to stop-start interactions. Our child might seem to lose interest in what is happening and wander off, so we get discouraged. Because we find it challenging to stay attuned with our child and in the moment, we ourselves wander off to something new to engage our child instead of staying with the current interaction.
A better option for staying in the interaction to facilitate the circles of communication with our child is to work on getting the engagement again by playfully obstructing what the child is doing, by joining what the child is doing, or by creating anticipation around something the child is doing such as saying, “I’m coming toooooo…!“, for instance.
While repeating or sportscasting the entire time will help foster a connection and engagement, we want to move beyond this when your child is ready. That’s when we want to put the ball in your child’s court so they can continue the interaction process. See the list of links below for more on how to do this.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we need to again, attune to our child in the moment, follow their lead, join them, and use a lot of affect, anticipation, and non-verbal communication to entice them into interacting with us–something they desire. An important distinction to make about interacting is that when the child is overwhelmed and dysregulated, the focus should strictly be on co-regulation.
Without the ability to regulate through circles of communication, it is easy for our children to stay in their own isolated world where we don’t understand them, and/or for them to behave aggressively to get what they want because they are unable to communicate their needs to us. This only frustrates both us and the child.
A continuous flow of back-and-forth signalling, or circles of communication, will defeat the need to be impulsive or withdrawn. DIR/Floortime works on the developmental capacities that regulate aggression. The earlier a child can develop these capacities, the less behavioural challenges as the child gets older and bigger because the child is happier and more in control of their world.
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Until next time… here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!