Occupational therapist at ICDL Livingston, Stephanie Peters, returns to build upon last week’s podcast sharing her experiences doing Floortime in the Pool! Stephanie has experience as an aquatic therapist and has done Floortime in the pool as part of the Intensives at ICDL Livingston. She enjoyed listening to how the aquatic environment is a great fit for children and all of the things it works on. It’s not only a great place to support Individual differences, but their individual profile can also be why children love the pool so much.

Stephanie Peters reviewed how the hydrostatic pressure of the pool provides the deep pressure that some children require to feel calm and regulated, how the buoyancy of the water makes it easier to support your body because it takes weight off your body for those who have lower muscle tone and use up so much energy to keep their posture upright, how being in the pool slows down children who tend to move very quicky, and how it is a natural way to connect two people together because it might not be safe, so the child is more drawn to a person to keep them safe and afloat. It’s a fantastic starting place for engagement.

Floortime in the Pool: A Deeper Dive

by Affect Autism | affectautism.com

The Pool is Conducive to Doing Floortime

Stephanie reviews that in the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model, the ‘D’ refers to the developmental capacities that we always keep in mind when we play with a child. The first two capacities are about regulation, shared attention and engagement. The pool offers an inherent sense of joy which helps us out when we are always trying to bring joy to our children when helping them engage with the world, or when doing occupational therapy activities to help children hold a pencil, for instance. 

In the sensory gym at therapy, sometimes children are overwhelmed by everything that’s there and feel a bit stuck about what to do first. To figure out how to play and include an adult is hard work. The pool offers that inherent sense of meaning about what this activity is for, and why and how the child wants to do it, Stephanie says. It’s having a connection with something. For kids scared of the water, it could be they have not yet made meaning of the experience and it’s important to follow their lead and tune in to their emotions while gently encouraging them to experience it. It is a strength to be cautious.

As parents we have to be a detective to figure out what happened if a child is scared of water–even the bath. Is it a sensory aversion such as acoustics, is it visual? Is it being separated from a parent to go into the pool with a therapist? Breaking it down and understanding the child’s profile, you can put the pieces together. 

Floortime in the Pool

As an Occupational Therapist, Stephanie likes to inform her practice with Floortime. In the back of her mind, she always has her gross or fine motor goals, but she wants the child to be intrinsically motivated. The best way to do this is to follow the child’s lead. She has lots of games she likes to play, but she needs to figure out what they need and what they want to do, then figure out what ideas come from that. A child may want to splash, kick, hold on to you, go under water, and all of that gives us information about where the child is, what they’re ready for and what they want. 

Early capacities Stephanie says that we are all always working on the first two capacities of regulation and engagement, so dedicating time for that is always “a beautiful gift to give“. She also always sees what the child wants to initiate.

She gave an example of a child who just sat with her on the side of the pool kicking for 25 minutes of the Floortime session. In her O.T. mind, she was thinking how this worked on balance, but it was his idea and he had the opportunity to be the director in the play that she was a participant in.

She was eager to make it silly and engaging to get the back-and-forth circles of communication. She would say “Ready, set, go!” then splash and then slow it down or stop. This can be a fun sensory modulation exercise of giving the child practice with slowing down. Then she’d look for that joint attention and connection where they share that moment of enjoyment with each other contemplating whether or not to do more, and how.

Higher capacities Stephanie continues that you can work towards shared problem-solving by visually creating an idea together of what something will look like by moving slowly and not getting much splash to kicking harder and faster and seeing so much water splashing everywhere. You get to collaborate to get it to look and feel exactly what the child wants it to look and feel like. With children who are more abstract, Stephanie tends to use more toys and props and uses the theme of superpowers.

She might use big chalk to write with on the side of the pool and splash it clean, to write secret messages with or to find clues spaced around the pool, to uncover how many times they need to do something to maybe defeat a bad guy, for instance. There are floatable and sinkable caricatures that can be hidden around the pool, or even at the bottom of the pool. Maybe they have to go rescue somebody or go around and find the friends who can help save the day.

There are also those suction cup toys she can stick around the pool that are ‘superpowers’. They swim to gather them and figure out what superpowers they are and how they will use them. There are infinite possibilities to be creative and have fun together doing Floortime in the pool!

A Chance to Practice Affect

Stephanie says that because the pool offers so much sensory input, you can be a lot less verbal and focus on affect and non verbal communication. For example, you could both have goggles on facing each other, then go under the water together while watching each other, then pop up together! You could go under water together and swim to the other side. This is so different than your child just swimming on their own. This is about connection and shared joyful experiences.

Moving Up the Developmental Ladder

The pool is a way to really get in the movement that some of our children need to stay connected in a regulated way. These joyful experiences together help foster the child having and sharing their own ideas with us and we can convey, “I want to go there with you and I’m going to enjoy every second of it!” which is at the heart of a relationship, Stephanie says. 

It’s also about supporting the child’s agency, Stephanie continues. There’s no better feeling than having control of your life, and helping someone feel independent swimming in the pool is a real gift to give. And for children with motor planning challenges, it’s great to support their buoyancy with pool noodles or flippers that allows them to feel more stable in helping them navigate their way in the pool while gaining better body awareness.

Inspiring Thinking and Intrinsic Motivation When a child lets the pool noodle go and realizes they aren’t floating anymore, this is a way to help the child navigate the experience of how to keep their self safe, Stephanie says. As Dr. Gil Tippy’s For on the Floor videos explain, we inspire children to figure things out for themselves by thinking. It’s intrinsic motivation that gets a child to figure things out, not instruction. When a child wants to do something, they are motivated to learn how to do it. We also want to scaffold and support, though, because if the child who lets go of the pool noodle has a frightening experience that then makes meaning for them of the pool being too scary, that could prevent them from learning any further in the pool.

O.T. Goals and Aquatic Therapy

Stephanie will think about O.T. goals as well when a child is intrinsically motivated. For a child who is motivated by trains or stacking cups, Stephanie will put them along the side of the pool and help the child hold on to the side of the pool to increase hand grip strength as they move along to find the next colour of train, for instance.

Prior to her Floortime training, Stephanie was an aquatic therapist, having trained with Angelfish, which she highly recommends. She learned about handling and benefits of the water. bilateral co-ordination, using two hands and two feet to swim the length of the pool, have the strength to keep an upright body in the pool, to have the fine motor strength to put on flippers, to be able to swim on your back and side–all of the foundational pieces. As a Floortimer, she found lots of overlap.

Find Your Child’s Interest

Stephanie says that parents always can look for that activity that their child is showing interest for. If it’s the pool, it’s a fantastic way to connect. If it’s not, there are many other activities that offer similar sensory-rich experiences that can foster good interactions. Stephanie also likes rock climbing for children who like to climb, for example. 

Learn Floortime with Your Family: ICDL Livingston’s Intensives

The Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning‘s new Flagship Therapy Center in Livingston, NJ offers intensives that range from one to four weeks where they offer a range of therapy. The caregivers and child will be at the center for four to five hours a day receiving occupational therapy, counselling, play therapy, speech therapy, meal time therapy, and aquatic therapy if interested, all under the Floortime umbrella. It helps integrate Floortime all the time into the family’s life. What does it look like to do Floortime all the time?

The intensives help bridge to gap from “I’ve seen someone do Floortime with my child” to now I know how to do that in all different situations: when getting dressed, as a family, etc. To learn this with your child with a group of knowledgeable professionals is a special experience. It gives the family a feeling of empowerment. During Covid, each family gets the center all to themselves and all therapists will be wearing masks and protective gear. There is a deal with a nearby hotel for lodging as well.

ICDL Conference 2020

This November, the Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning will hold their annual conference throughout the month online, Floortime All the Time and Everywhere. Along with many Floortime professionals presenting, I will be presenting on my top take-aways and light bulb moments in my own Floortime journey. You can find out more HERE.

ICDL Home Program

Get coaching from the comfort of your own home through ICDL’s Home Program. Sign up for a FREE consultation and learn more about it HERE.

Thank you to both Serena Suman and Stephanie Peters for sharing their experiences with us over the last two posts about connecting with our children in the water. If you enjoyed today’s podcast and learned something, please feel free to share this post on Facebook or Twitter. If you have any comments, questions or experiences to share, please use the Comment section below.

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

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