In part two of our Floortime review, clinical psychologist and founder and director of the Greenhouse Therapy Center, Dr. Andrea Davis is back to continue breaking down how I am facilitating emotional thinking and logical thinking in my 11-year-old son while supporting his developmental process using the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model. This follows from part 1 last week. We continue by diving right into the Floortime video.

Facilitating Emotional and Logical Thinking: Part 2

by Affect Autism |

Note: The sections showing the Floortime video in the video podcast are audio only

Let’s continue from last week with the Floortime video breakdown

All of the labelled methods are directly from Dr. Davis’ co-authored book, A User’s Guide to the DIR Model applied to the video of me doing Floortime with my 11-year-old son.

Time stamp  Description

06:30 Dr. Davis says I am really facilitating the 6th developmental capacity here: 6.6 Build bridges, 6.7 Elaborate, 6.9 Make connections, and 6.12 Debate, moving between them all in such a nice flow. Dr. Davis points out that a speech and language therapist might be thinking about clarifying for the purposes of communication, such as fixing misunderstanding, but let’s not forget that when we’re talking about DIR/Floortime, we’re concerned with social-emotional and cognitive development.

This is something that Jake Greenspan points out: let’s not forget the thinking part that makes our model really special because you can’t manipulate reinforcers to make someone think. It’s really unique to the developmental model that we’re looking at how he thinks–not only to clarify his communication, but to think more clearly, and to organize those thoughts so they make sense for building those bridges and doing that logical thinking that all this leads up to. This is where she sees me working really strongly, but gently.

And Dr. Davis notes that although I Debate (6.12), I don’t correct. We can see how hard he’s thinking to figure this out and I Incite thinking (6.8), but I don’t do it for him. Doing the thinking for him is the easy way out, she continues. I’m using my confusion to help him sort out what he’s communicating, and it’s not high stakes. Some parents think that things will be ok if their child gets the right answer, which is pressure and anxiety. This is playful, she points out.

It doesn’t matter if he sorts this out now, but it’s practice for him to come to me later when he needs to sort out his thinking, Dr. Davis adds. This is what Dr. Greenspan meant by ‘Building Bridges’ and making those logical connections and this is about me being the challenger at this point, and doing so gently and playfully.

I later realized that he was trying to tell me to put a number ‘1’ on the gold trophy, but couldn’t quite articulate it. Dr. Davis points out that despite not having his idea communicated, he didn’t fall apart. He was resilient and stayed ‘in it’ with me because of the support I’m giving him and the lack of pressure. The fun and the joy carry and build his resilience, she asserts, to manage any frustration in that moment on his part.

09:50 Here Dr. Davis sees me really using 6.8 Incite thinking and 5.4 Instigate creativity to get him to make up something new because he wants to repeat. He’s sharing his feelings and thinking and this is exactly what we want to see in a child, which is the best part of relationships, but he’s showing me what he already saw in the game and I want him to take it further. I want him to go from a game player to a game developer.

Here, Dr. Davis sees me really supporting him to do the thing that’s hard for him. He has a very precise memory of all the characters that he wants to share with me, but I’m asking him to do a new thing: to enjoy novelty and to enjoy the creation, and he does. He’s working really hard with me to come up with this new character that he decides will be called Billy when I suggest Bullet. (Note: I later learned that there is a ‘Bullet Bill’ character in Mario Kart so he was relying on his memory when he associated what I said (a very fast train called ‘Bullet’) with what he knew (‘Bullet Bill’).

11:00 Next Dr. Davis sees me using 6.7 Elaborate on the logic and fairness and Debate (6.12) when I ask if it’s fair that the train is on a different track than the cars for the race. She bets that next time we talk about it, he will have thought about it more because we make connections while we sleep and while we dream, and I’ve asked him to make those connections that aren’t quite there yet in his thinking. She believes he will have moved further along in this thinking because I made it so enticing for him.

12:26 Dr. Davis sees me using 4.7 Genuine self and 6.2 Highlight emotions to get that emotional thinking going. She liked how I didn’t overdo it while dramatizing my disappointment, resentment, and retaliation that my son squished my character, the bullet train, like a peer playmate might. It was muted and moderated. Dr. Davis likes how he is thinking about what would make me feel better to fix it.

He first suggests I can do another one, but I’m still sad. Then he makes another attempt at repair by saying he’s sorry, then says he’ll make a new character and offers me colours. I used 6.4 Encourage empathy and he rose to the occasion. Dr. Davis asks what I thought about it. I said that I think he’s uncomfortable with the novelty and so he squishes the character that doesn’t belong. Dr. Davis says that it’s tempting as a parent to get moralistic, but play is not moralizing where you teach or lecture your child.

15:17 Dr. Davis points out that I try empathically narrating his feeling state (6.1 Narrate). Empathic narration is one of the core practices, she says, that we use constantly to help the child understand their own feelings, to feel cared for, accepted, and understood, and to sort out what they’re thinking and feeling, too. I get on board with him and say, “You don’t like Billy Bullet.” and “You don’t want him to be in the race because I made him up.

Dr. Davis says of course we never really know for sure what another person is thinking but we try to guess. This helps him to guess and wonder about his own feelings himself. It helps them build emotional bridges about what they feel and what happened, she continues. Since I gave him the acceptance by naming his feelings, he will be thinking about that, she adds.

It makes him more aware of himself and someday be able to reflect with a partner that maybe he raised his voice because he was really stressed about his day, for instance. It’s the sorting out that helps us fix and repair together. It’s hard for him. He doesn’t fully engage me on it, but it’s planting seeds for the future and he’s tracking me and engaging with me still. I’ve opened a problem to solve as he goes along. Why would he smoosh the character? He will think about that.

17:45 Dr. Davis points out that I’m using 6.10 Event planner by helping him sequence what comes next, because when he’s this excited, it’s hard for him. I’m helping him think together with me and flesh out his plot, almost like writing a story together.

19:40 Dr. Davis points out that I go back to his issues with winning and losing. It helps him think about his life by thinking about the characters in his story now. I use 6.2 Highlight emotions and 6.3 Reflect (with emotional curiosity). When he tells me that Ludwig is a bad guy, I make an angry face and ask if he’s scary as my son mimics my mean faces, experimenting with the emotions on his face and in his body, playing with the ideas, Dr. Davis explains.

Dr. Davis talks about how important it is to experience the emotional flavour of life by reflecting on their feelings throughout the day whether it’s at dinner, in the bath, or while watching a video because our kids often miss it and go back to the mechanics or the visuals, or a limited aspect of what excites them. We’re saying, “Hey, there’s something else really exciting, too!” I point out the emotions and he goes there, finding it interesting, too, she explains.

26:00 Here Dr. Davis says I’m using 5.3 Thicken the plot, 5.2 Animate (the characters), enticing him to use his imagination more to not only recreate the ideas he’s seen, but to write something new with me. We watch when he says we’re in Grumble Volcano and I make the hot lava and dramatize how hot it is and that we have to be careful. He asks about it and wonders what will happen if we fall in the lava. I explained to Dr. Davis that this is his current stage: asking “What will happen?” about everything.

Dr. Davis says this is exactly why we want to work on building bridges between ideas and emotional and logical thinking in play because he is so consumed with working on this right now. It’s how we adapt to our environment. It’s beginning to hypothesize and be a scientist, she explains. We always do this before we make our best choices and he is getting ready to do that, she says. In play, there’s more flexibility and comfort to experiment with ideas. In real life, it’s a little more scary to wonder what will happen if he screams at school, for instance.

Next steps

Dr. Davis says to continue doing more of the imaginary, drawing my son into the plot himself, but also she suggests moving towards emerging Capacity 7 where he’s doing multi-causal thinking, which might get him unstuck from the one-for-one of what will happen: this then that. 

So in a play context when he’s relaxed and there’s nothing riding on it, we can ask him to think of another reason why the Mercedes is the best car in Mario Kart if he says that, besides that it’s the fastest, or whatever. What’s another reason it’s the best?

Or, when my son said he didn’t want Billy Bullet to be in the race and I offered that it was because I made him up, I could ask what’s another reason he didn’t want him in the race? The answers don’t even have to be accurate, Dr. Davis explains. It’s just the experience of trying to think that there’s more than one reason for something and that these logical connections aren’t one-for-one; they’re one for many. This is how we represent the world a little bit better in our mind, Dr. Davis adds.

This will help him in real life when he can think about reasons a friend doesn’t want to play with him, for instance. It could be because they had a rough time yesterday, or it could be that the friend is really interested in what that other friend is doing instead. This is about playground politics, as Dr. Greenspan called it, Dr. Davis says. We can start to think about interrelationships with each other.

She points out that adults do this when they tease friends to test what will happen, and sometimes that strengthens the bond if we can tease each other a bit. So my son might be beginning to work on this and if empathy doesn’t come naturally, it’s about playing out these experiences over and over again then remembering what it felt like when something happened and how it felt.

Repetition and Practice

Dr. Feder pointed out how our kids will need to repeat these experiences over and over to learn. This reminded Dr. Davis of Temple Grandin’s description of watching a door open and close as a child. She explained that the door in each position is different, so it wasn’t really the same thing over and over again since it was so visually stimulating for her. It was also hard for her to form a rule about what a ‘dog’ was when she saw so many types of dogs that were so different from each other.

I gave an example of how my son started calling everyone “Uncle (their name)” after he heard his cousin call his Dad ‘Uncle’. Recently when we started calling our son ‘uncle’ back, he does not like it at all and screams, “Don’t call me uncle!” or “I’m not uncle!” Dr. Davis says that’s interesting and tells us that he is not automatically synthesizing that into a rule that if he doesn’t like it then maybe others don’t either. He’s going to have to do it by repetition and practice.

Dr. Davis pointed out that humour is often putting two things that don’t belong together, getting that jolt of feeling, then resolving it. That’s what makes it funny and pleasurable. She said my son thought that it was hilarious when he heard his cousin call his father ‘uncle’ and a character in Sonic Boom call Dr. Eggman a ‘buffoon’. Then, by calling his friends these names he hears, including ‘uncle’, my son is finding the humour in life and repeating it to experience it again. 

I explained how the humour became an issue when other kids didn’t like being called names. We’ve had to figure out how to navigate his repetition, especially when he heard ‘stupid’ in a cartoon. Often when someone says, “Stop it” he’ll repeat “stop it…stop it…stupid..stupid…” then say, “You’re stupid!” and we would explain that we don’t call people ‘stupid’. But I then started redirecting him by saying that we can call the virus ‘stupid’ and say, “Stupid virus!” Dr. Davis likes redirecting because we can shift our behaviour more easily if someone redirects us versus stops us, she says.

Inhibiting behaviour is hard

He’s picking up the correct emotional tone, Dr. Davis says, but inhibiting is hard. In this case, redirecting works better because all of us find it hard to inhibit something we’re told not to focus on. I gave the example of suggesting my son say, “Woo hoo!” when he feels like screaming (his latest ‘stim’). He will scream and then say more quietly, “Woo hoo” as if he remembered to replace the scream, but found it so difficult to control the impulse to scream. 

I brought up the point about our older children being younger emotionally and developmentally than their neurotypical peers. This makes it difficult to respond because if we see an 11-year-old, we aren’t thinking of the stages of a 5- or 6-year-old. Dr. Davis gave the example of a 9-month-old in a cathedral experimenting with the sound of their echoing voice. We wouldn’t tell them to stop and expect them to be able to inhibit themselves. We instead would change the environment and bring them outside where it’s not as disruptive to yell.

If your frustration gets in there, that distracts from the ‘lesson’. When you’re patient and understanding, you’re giving him good information that he wants and needs without the emotional tone of rejection and disappointment, frustration and irritation that he has to defend himself from, not think about, and then go off and do what he was going to do anyway, Dr. Davis explains. It’s hard because at the end of the day if we’re tired and our child screams, our instinct is to direct, “Stop it” and if he doesn’t listen, to escalate louder, “Stop it!

This only makes the child more anxious and if the screaming had to do with anxiety to begin with, Dr. Davis continues, then you’re in a negative feedback loop. So we can start from and return to a place of acceptance of our child as a person, which helps with having patience, Dr. Davis states. She continues that you might think he can or he can’t, but let’s support him and try a re-direct. 

With support, our children thrive

When we support our children, they thrive and can really show us their developmental best in these moments of Floortime. Dr. Davis says that intentional, purposeful play is the best support. Any big behavioural problem that parents would bring to Dr. Greenspan, Dr. Davis recalls, he would say, “More Floortime!” You need to make more time to play together in your schedule and continue to provide these opportunities to give your child support in play. 

Part 3 coming next week…

I’d like to thank Dr. Andrea Davis for reviewing this Floortime video with me. I find it so valuable to get this feedback from her and hope that it is helpful to you in your own practice or with your own child. Next week in Part 3, I will do a follow-up Floortime session and implement her suggestions for next steps! It would be great to read constructive feedback, related experiences, comments or questions in the Comments section below about your own Floortime experiences. If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter!

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

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