DIR Expert Training Leader, psychologist Ira Glovinsky joins us again this week to discuss his new Early Child Development video series. He has a background in psychology and special education and runs The Glovinsky Center for the Child and Family in West Bloomfield, Michigan. He also co-leads the PhD program in Infant and Early Childhood Development, founded by Dr. Stanley Greenspan as the International Council on Development and Learning (ICDL) PhD Program that is now offered at Fielding Graduate University, and is on the graduate faculty at ICDL.

The Foundation for Regulation with Dr. Ira Glovinsky

by Affect Autism

Unprepared Educators

Dr. Glovinsky wanted to create this video series because of the many educators in the Fielding graduate program in the U.S. and internationally who kept bringing up over and over again that there are very young preschool age and kindergarten children in the classroom who are really not ready for group participation because they really haven’t mastered the foundation skills of regulation in individual parent-child environments. Coming into a preschool, the expectation is that they will be able to function in a group setting and they don’t have the skills to do it. 

The teachers are saying that in their training programs they’re really not getting the tools they require to be able to work with these kids. They have lots of coursework, but when they’re confronted with dealing with a classroom situation, they are quickly overwhelmed. At a conference in Amsterdam, Dr. Glovinsky heard that they’re experiencing the same things in Europe: “What do we do with dysregulated kids?” So he decided to concentrate on developing a program at his Center that would hit on the critical areas that are necessary to provide the foundation for regulation.

We've covered the topic of foundation skills before:

Foundation Academics with Dr. Gil Tippy

A developmental approach overview with Dr. Ira Glovinsky

Early Social-Emotional Capacities with Dr. Ira Glovinsky

Self-Reg and DIR/Floortime with Dr. Stuart Shanker 

Component parts

In the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model, we talk about the six core functional emotional developmental capacities (FEDC’s). Dr. Glovinsky says that any one of those levels can be an umbrella term. If you take the first one which is Self-regulation, for example, you can think about attention and calming, but what’s the process that a parent or a teacher has to go through to get there?

Dr. Glovinsky referred to work of Myron Hofer at Columbia University who found that ‘attachment’ is an umbrella term and there are hidden regulators that help form attachment. You can take each of these component parts and look at them individually, and then when you put them together you come up with attachment.

Working with mothers and very young preschoolers between ages 3 and 5, it hit Dr. Glovinsky that there are tools that an ‘ordinary good enough mother’ uses with her baby that may still be necessary with older children due to the enormous variations in individual differences in children. He began to look at what these component parts were and identified them with parents in the office. He calls them ‘balloons’. When they identified one of these balloons he worked with a parent psycho-educationally so the parent understood the concept on a visceral level.

Targeting Educators and Caregivers

Recall from our podcast with Dr. Stuart Shanker that he discussed the process of targeting educators with the process of Self-Reg in order to help them have a visceral sense of what Self-Reg is before they could apply it to their students. Presenting the theory and having them understand it all cognitively had not worked. Similarly, Dr. Glovinsky shares that his video series is for educators and parents because you can only work on these capacities with children to the extent that you can do it yourselves.

The visceral sense of what it feels like

I have a feeling for this concept” was the goal. Dr. Glovinsky had the mother and the child come into the office and the mother would work on this part with the child. What he began to see is that when they worked on these processes, they had some really good outcomes. He gave the example of a 5-year-old boy who had a severe attention problem and in his attention with his mother, the back-and-forth just wasn’t there. One morning in his office the boy was talking about the toys and his mother was not really focused on him so the boy looked up at his mother and said, “Mom when we’re talking to each other, you’re supposed to pay attention to me!” Dr. Glovinsky says he had a visceral sense of what attention is supposed to feel like.

Dr. Glovinsky began to look at these visceral processes that are vital to the infant-parent-toddler relationship. He was interested in what was most important to focus on in interactions, particularly with dysregulated kids. They need adults who will move in when they are dysregulated, rather than deal with it behaviourally, who will support and scaffold the child, and work on developing a relationship with the child. This is a critical piece that’s been missing.

With the autism spectrum, we have a wide range of kids who are presenting behaviours that Dr. Glovinsky puts into this category. With the DIR approach, many of them can make significant strong, powerful gains in treatment when we focus on these processes and when parents are aware that this is something that they need to work on with their child because it will make a difference.

Young children need adults who will move in when they are dysregulated, rather than deal with it behaviourally.

Dr. Ira Glovinsky

The First Video 

Dr. Glovinsky’s first video can be seen on his Center’s Facebook page. The video describes some critical components in the parent-child relationship. He sees Attention and orienting towards each other as the critical first component. If you develop the capacity for attention, it’s feeling the attention on a visceral level rather than a cognitive level. Your body feels you are really attending to each other and this leads to another component, Attunement. It’s being able to develop the capacity to be able to recognize a feeling in another person and get a sense to feel like what it feels like to be in another person’s shoes. (See the Theory of Mind podcast with Maude Le Roux.)

When you feel that this is what my partner in this interaction may be feeling, then you can develop the Synchrony. This is the idea that we are moving and flowing together at the same pace like a table tennis game where I serve the ball at a particular speed and then the ball is in the other person’s lap and that person can hit the ball back faster or slower than I served it. What I have to decide to do is get into a back and forth at a pace that is comfortable for both of us. In order to collaborate we have to flow together. When people are not in ‘synch’ together, they feel it. You can feel being pushed or pulled off balance by the other person’s pace or tempo and that’s not being in synch. “I want to flow with you so we feel comfortable with each other” is important.

The next component is Contingency which means that when I say or do something, your response is connected to what I did or said. Dr. Glovinsky gave us an example that if he says to me, “Good morning“, I might say “Good morning“. If I say “Don’t say that to me!” that’s not contingent. Or if I said, “Ooo, look out the window. There are birds flying around that tree!” that’s not contingent. You want to look at how you are relating in that back and forth. 

What you find that in early infancy is that in the time frame between the mother and the child, the ‘back and forth’ is very close together. As babies get older and get into toddlerhood, that time frame between back and forth isn’t the same anymore. It enables all of us to develop a sense of a differentiation from one another. It’s that “I know that you are doing this and I am doing this and now I know the difference between me and you“. The idea of beginning to form my identity different from your identity comes from contingency not being as close together.

Marking We want to remember an experience, and for you to remember this experience as being very important, one might say “Wow, that’s great!” after a toddler does something. That’s marking that behaviour. The receiver gets the message that that’s an important thing that just happened between us and I want to store that in my memory system. Those processes really form the component parts in the development of a healthy relationship. Dr. Glovinsky says that children showing emotional dysregulation need more of that input than kids who are developing the capacity to regulate and relate.

Co-regulation is really in the interaction. I’m regulating me but I’m also regulating you by how you’re going to respond back to me. On the receiving end, you’re regulating you, but how you respond to me is co-regulating me. In a sense what we do is it’s no longer you and me, but it’s ‘we’. Dr. Glovinsky wants that to come across to a child.

Attachment is feeling safe in a relationship with a parent. The above components define secure attachment versus insecure or avoidant attachments.


As parents today, we’re so distracted with so little time at home, and then when we are at home we’re looking at our cell phones. I asked Dr. Glovinsky about Attention and Marking, saying that Marking isn’t really marking if you’re saying “That’s great!” while you’re looking at the cell phone, not really paying attention nor attuned to your child. He agreed and mentioned that he recently saw a new word ‘technoference’, defined as the interference that all of us get by focusing on our iPads, cell phones and computers which gets in the way of the development of healthy relationships. We can’t be attuned nor in synch with someone in a healthy relationship if we are looking at screens instead of interacting.



The 9th capacity in the DIR model is Self-reflection. In the mental health field there’s a real strong movement, particularly with people who are working with families, infants and doing home visiting, to have people endorsed in reflective practice and supervision. Outside of the mental health field, this reflective thinking is much more scattered although there are some movements toward it in speech & language and hearing associations and we are seeing more in the area of occupational therapy.

In the area of parenting there are some people who are developing programs where they’re teaching parents to ‘hold the baby in mind’ which relates to teaching the caregivers how to be reflective, Dr. Glovinsky says. This involves reflections such as, “Gee why do you think that Joey just did what he did?” It causes the parent to not just focus on what they’re going to do to change the behaviour, but trying to understand the behaviour. That can be tricky for a lot of parents who just want to get their child to behave. It’s hard to make that shift to ‘why’ when they might think that it doesn’t matter why because the child must behave.

Self-reflection is really hard to do when you’re dysregulated and triggered by your child’s behavioural outbursts, though. Dr. Glovinsky referenced Psychoanalyst Selma Fraiberg’s work in the field of infant mental health where she refers to ‘ghosts in the nursery’. That is, how we respond to our children is not only dependent upon what they do, but on our own histories with similar experiences. Each of us will respond differently to our child’s behaviour, which has something to do with our own memories and unconscious experiences from when we were young and how our parents related to us. We may not be aware of it at all, but our responses are not isolated responses. They have something to do with where we came from.

To reflect on an experience rather than react to an experience will always be challenging, and it’s important to recognize it as a first step.

If we were all hooked up on a physiological machine during interactions, we’d see there are things going on inside of us. Interoception is feeling what’s going on inside of us (the 8th sense), briefly discussed in the podcast with Virginia Spielmann). It’s really not on a cognitive level, the visceral sense of how you feel with another person. Occupational therapist, Kelly Mahler, wrote a book about this 8th sense.

Individual differences

All of us come into the world with our own biological and physiological baggage and when we come into the world we immediately meet these big people who have their own biological and physiological packages, so we have to look at the goodness of fit. Does my biological physiological package fit with yours? They don’t have to match. What’s your approach to a new situation? Some of us approach, some withdraw. How long does it take us to adapt? Adaptability is another temperamental variable. You may have a high activity level and I may have a low activity level, but I might be a person who really appreciates a person with a high activity level, so it doesn’t mean it’s a bad match. It’s about the goodness of fit.

Dr. Glovinsky also considers the physiology. When a child is misbehaving, we see what that child does rather than focusing on the child’s increased heart rate or blood pressure, or that they’re breathing really fast. That has to be addressed initially before you can expect the child to regulate. Also, does the child understand your language? Can they keep up with the pace of your language? Does the child have the capacity to pretend? Can they use their imagination? It’s a wonderful way to learn about and navigate the world. We need to help parents, teachers, and children to celebrate imaginative play because it’s hooked up with moods, feelings in the moment, and wanting to share joy with others. “I want to use my imagination with you” gets us into Relationship.

Thank you to Dr. Glovinsky for taking the time to speak with us! Over the next few months, Dr. Glovinsky plans to continue with the video series and we hope to speak with him periodically going forward. If you enjoyed this podcast and found it helpful, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter and feel free to offer Comments in the section below. 

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

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