This week, child and family psychiatrist, Dr. Joshua Feder, who is also an Expert DIR Training Leaderreturns to share some insights about how Floortime fits in with Buddhist philosophy. This is material that was presented at the International Council on Development and Learning international conference last November in Thailand and made into a book as well*. Please enjoy the video or audio podcast!

Dhamma and DIR with Dr. Josh Feder

by Affect Autism

The Lotus The significance of the Lotus flower is that out of mud, which doesn’t look like much, or even turns people off, blossoms a beautiful flower. In our DIR/Floortime approach, we look past a person’s behaviour, which might look negative at times, and see the beautiful person inside.

Meditation Meditation in the Buddhist tradition is about finding calm, which is what we aim for in DIR/Floortime: to be regulated so we can engage with the world. But this is not just important for the child. As caregivers we also need to find a way to be calm in order to help the child, and the DIR practitioner can help coach caregivers in how to do this for themselves and for their children.

Karma The Buddhist concept of karma talks about how everything is connected and what we do comes back to you. In DIR/Floortime, we trust that if we nurture our Relationships we will very likely be rewarded with better growth and development, happiness, and meaningful lives.

Tikkun Olam (Repairing the world) This refers to a mystical Jewish concept in which we think of our world as shattered into fragments. Our job is to help put it back together. We cannot completely put it back together, though, but we need to work on it, putting a few pieces together, generation after generation. In the autism world, this means helping people to build on their strengths to be able to think for themselves and have more meaningful lives. Traditional autism therapeutic models that say “Do it this way” often fragment our children instead of building meaningful abilities and lives.

Kalyama Mitta (True friend) As professionals, caregivers, and members of our communities, our charge is to selflessly offer assistance so that others may thrive. Being a true friend, we provide people with resources and ideas on how to improve things in a way that is selfless and genuine for the benefit of the people we’re trying to help.

Samma Ditthi (Right path) is about how following the ‘right path’ is necessary for one to move toward a better life. As it applies to autism, this path is not specifically prescribed actions, but a humanistic, developmental philosophy that supports people in emergence, building from strength to strength along their innate interests and desires. DIR/Floortime is a strengths-based model that starts by following the emotional interests of the person we aim to support. Our developmental thinking gives the person room to grow rather than dictating what to do. This allows the person to try things out and continue to come back and problem solve. In the end, the person becomes more self-assured and more confident in their ability to problem solve.

Summary We need to stay humble and realize that we do not know everything, while offering our knowledge in a way that can help them develop.

Case study for the early social-emotional capacities (Functional Emotional Developmental Capacity 1 to 4) In the example of a child who is continuing to bang their head against the wall, harming themself, we can use the person’s movements to join their rhythm. Does it cure the child? No. Does it give them a positive experience for a time, yes. It’s a start, not a cure. Being a true friend and a helpful professional means that we come in humbly, using the right path, which is the developmental approach, to help a child to be–for a time–more regulated and more connected in a meaningful, interactive flow. Over time, we do this more and more with many people which is far better than merely supervising the child sitting in the corner 24/7.

Case study for the higher early social-emotional capacities (Functional Emotional Developmental Capacity 5 and 6)  When a child is being aggressive with others, we might work at the fifth capacity level by allowing them to bang a big car to be dominant, transforming the interpersonal action into a symbolic one. We then help the child to appreciate the consequences in the play (e.g., “Oh, that hurts!“). This is the sixth capacity stage. We work with the ideas rather than tell the child not to do it, and help the child use healthy symbolic thinking so they understand and be able to take on new situations in ways that are more adaptive. Rather than rotely learning not to hit their peer in the school yard, they can learn about aggression and why they shouldn’t be hurting people in general.

Case study for the higher social-emotional capacities (Functional Emotional Developmental Capacity 7 to 9) The true friend will be thinking about ideas with a child rather than telling the child what to think. We might help them to compare what happens with their teacher versus with their parent and wonder how does that compare to other situations in their life. The right attitude and path, the developmental path, helps us to think more productively about these problems and how our kids might solve them.

Two scraps of paper Next, Dr. Feder demonstrates the two scraps of paper. One says “The world was made for me“. This is the one you pull out when you feel small and feel you can’t change anything to remind you that you can really make an impact on the world and on others. The other paper says “I am only dust” which you pull out to help your humility when you have a big head.

Thank you Finally, Dr. Feder shows a drawing of the Buddhist praying hands to thank us for our attention and for listening to this presentation.

* The book is Dhamma and DIR: Buddhist Thought as a Framework for Using Developmental Approaches in Helping People with Challenges in Development and Learning by Kingkaew Pajareya, M.D. and English Edition by translated by Kingkaew Pajareya, M.D., Joshua Feder, M.D., and Mara Governman, MSW. If you have any questions or would like a copy of the book please contact Dr. Feder.

A huge thank you to Dr. Feder for today’s presentation! I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please consider sharing it on Twitter or Facebook and please share any Comments below. In two weeks, stay tuned for our video podcast with Dr. Stuart Shanker on self regulation, the first developmental capacity in the DIR model.

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

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