This week’s podcast is part two of a two-part review of my conference presentation for the Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning (ICDL) from last month. Retired special educator and DIR Expert Training Leader, Jackie Bartell, joined me to discuss my revelations from being a Floortime parent for 8 years now. We covered the first five revelations last week, and continue with the next five this week. Jackie’s work supporting families over the years brought amazing insights and thoughts about my revelations.
My Biggest Revelations from being a Floortime Parent: Part 2
A reminder from last week’s podcast: These revelations are not sequential, but happen as a process that varies from family to family. We are all on our own journeys on a different timeline. As Jackie stated last podcast, “Every one of us is on a journey, and we have to allow ourselves the space and time to be on the journey in the time that it takes, and to work on different parts of it as it seems to fit inside the moment that we’re living in.“
Revelation #6: Flexibility is essential
This revelation was about not being a robot or walking on eggshells with your child. At the ICDL conference, speech and language therapist from Floortime Atlanta, Mary Beth Stark spoke about making the space to allow for ‘the uncomfortable’ with a teenager she was working with. So many parents are terrified of this ‘uncomfortable’ when their kids get distressed that they’ll go to ridiculous measures–understandably so–to prevent their child’s meltdowns. Dr. Greenspan talked about co-regulating with your child when they are dysregulated and practice frustration tolerance when the child is in a great mood and nobody’s in a hurry.
By playfully challenging and expanding when they are having fun with you, you can prepare them for those times that things won’t go exactly as they want. I gave the example of how we used to push our son’s stroller on a walk to see the city fountains in our neighbourhood. One day when we had his uncle visiting and went to see them, the water had been shut off because it was after Labour Day. Oh no! There was nothing I could do about that, and my son was very upset. All I could do was co-regulate and take his perspective, “Oh no! You really wanted to see the fountains!”
If we are always walking on eggshells and provide tokens to our child for doing some task then we run out of tokens, some parents will drive to the store to get more to appease their child. But if the store is closed, there’s nothing more they can do but co-regulate. Jackie points out that not only do we have to deal with our own sense of discomfort, but also that of others around us! It is important to just be in that moment with that discomfort and use our own regulation to co-regulate with the child. Jackie gave the example of being with my family when our son couldn’t get his way and she said, “Bummer, dude!” to validate what he was feeling without changing it.
When our children feel understood, they can start to co-regulate–modulate their emotions. I talked about the Floortime video I showed in the conference presentation where I challenged my son when he wanted his trains to be put in the same place. Jackie said I let him know that I knew he wanted the trains to go back to their spot, but I challenged him playfully by playing the voice of the train and asking to move to a new spot. Jackie said this will prepare him for flexible thinking. We have to be comfortable with ours and others’ discomfort because we only need to worry about us and our child. And going back to revelation #4 from last week, Jackie adds that from my example, letting the child know in advance that you don’t know if the fountain will be on or off can set an expectation that helps with routine.
The other point from this revelation was that our children are constantly changing. Growth and development are dynamic, not static. We always have to check in with our child so see where are they developmentally in that moment, have their sensory profiles or individual differences changed at all, and how is our relationship? We might have a bad day and snap at our child, but we can always repair the relationship. And if we are having a great time but our child suddenly becomes dysregulated, we can always go back to co-regulating again and move back up that developmental ladder.
Revelation #7: Know yourself
It’s really important that we understand what makes us dysregulated as parents. We can complete the sensory processing profile on ourselves and understand what makes us uncomfortable. We wouldn’t want to be co-regulating with our child and doing Floortime in an environment that we are ourselves uncomfortable in. I gave an example of me being dysregulated and yelling, “Ah! Spider!” if I saw a spider and what the child would pick up from that.
Jackie suggests that what the child takes from that might be different than what we expect, similar to if we yell, “Nooo!” if they knock over someone’s drink. They may not take that to mean they shouldn’t do that again or that we think it’s wrong to do. She said we have to understand what we’re uncomfortable with, what others are uncomfortable with, and appreciate that so we can respect what our child is uncomfortable with.
I gave another example that I’ve given before about our son getting a reaction out of Dad when he smacked Dad in the face during teeth brushing. Because Dad is typically so non responsive, our son was thrilled with the high affect response and kept doing it. Then he started doing it with friends at school yelling, “Aow!” as he hit. Whereas a behavioural approach would work on extinguishing this behaviour, we want to understand why it happened and then redirect it appropriately rather than punish the child who is not intending to behave badly.
It’s typical experimental cause-and-effect behaviour like a neurotypical baby would do. Our child is just figuring it out a bit later when he’s big enough that it hurts others. Jackie said it’s natural to have that reaction as Dad because it hurts! It hurts physically, and it hurts emotionally to have your child hit you. But we need to take that time and space to figure out what’s going on.
Revelation #8: Take the time and effort to see and understand your child
As Dr. Greenspan said, there is no better feeling than being understood. It’s all about attuning to our child so they feel understood. Often as parents, we are so scared of our child having a meltdown that we will do what we can to avoid that. That involves assuming that our child only likes a certain toy or won’t do certain activities. But what if, as Eunice Lee said in a recent podcast, that is not the case and they might explore something new? Let’s always presume that our child can. Let’s presume competence.
Dr. Tippy says that we want our children to know that if they come across a problem, they have what they need within themselves to figure it out. Professional coaching can help with figuring out what’s behind some of our children’s behaviours by having that other set of eyes with experience. Coaches can help brainstorm and figure out when we wait, watch, and wonder what is going on with our child when they can’t tell us themselves. Dr. Naseef had said that especially fathers tend to want to fix things, which is usually about us having our ideas of how to fix rather than that attunement to our child. ICDL‘s Executive Director, Jeff Guenzel said at this year’s conference that the shift for him came when instead of doing things for his kids, he started enjoying things with his kids.
Revelation #9: Get clear on ‘socialization’
This one might be more a pet peeve of mine than a revelation. Socialization is important, but often not in the way we are told. You often hear how important it is for kids to be in daycare or school because of socialization, but it depends on where our kids are developmentally. Until our children can have back-and-forth interactions with us, their primary caregivers, they won’t be having them with peers. They learn through emotional experiences, not by instruction. Simply showing our kids that we say hello and when they ask us how we’re doing we answer is merely teaching scripts. Their socialization will come when they begin to form relationships.
Kristy Gose talked about facilitating socialization between neurodiverse children and neurotypical children in a podcast from last year. Jackie adds that socialization is an experience, not a skill. We have to provide the atmosphere for children to experience it in a way that works with where they are developmentally. It’s the facilitation by the adult and the developmental capacities that support the process of socialization.
Revelation #10: You can’t change anyone; You can only Floortime them
We have to meet others where they are at, whether it’s parent with child, therapist with parent, or parent with a spouse or family members. You can only proceed when they are ready. You can be a role model for others. Family members or friends and others can say awful things but it might be because they don’t understand our neurodiverse children or their meltdowns. They might even blame you! You can’t take these things personally.
The world will never bow down and cater to our children in every way we wish they would. It’s just not the way things work. Sometimes people will be really empathetic, and other times people are jerks! Others aren’t as enlightened about DIR/Floortime yet. We can inform and educate others about Floortime. There is a move towards developmental approaches and there is a research and evidence base for DIR/Floortime. Dr. Kathy Platzman said that “co-regulation starts with the technique, and ends with being a way of life.“
Jackie adds that co-regulation is that step where we begin to accept reality, bringing us back to where we started this podcast last week. When Floortime becomes a way of life, we get to the place where we can feel emotionally safe and emotionally ok and be happy with the child we’ve been given. It’s certainly my next challenge as I continue my learning: meeting parents where they are at in the online parent support group I facilitate weekly. I feel the need to put myself in their shoes when I wanted answers, and use my experience to try to solve their problems and instead try to meet them where they are at and help to guide their process. Jackie adds to as well Floortime myself by giving myself space to just be.
I hope you enjoyed the discussion around these revelations from parenting in a Floortime way since my son’s diagnosis. I thank the Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning (ICDL) for the opportunity to speak at the conference and Jackie Bartell for taking the time to reflect on them with me. Please feel free to comment, share experiences, or ask questions in the Comments section below and if you would consider sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter, that would be great! Thank you.
Until next time… here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!