Following up from last week, we’re talking Floortime Summer Camps with Occupational Therapist, Rosemary White, of The Offices of Rosemary White OTR/L & Associates, just outside of Seattle, who is a DIR Expert Trainer and on the Senior Faculty at Profectum, and Teresa, a parent of a child who has attended the camp for a number of years. First, we’ll hear about a couple of presentations Rosemary did describing the progress she’s seen at the camps and then we’ll hear from Teresa about what Floortime has brought to her son and to her family.  

A Parent's Experience of DIR/Floortime

by Affect Autism

Fostering Development Comes Full Circle

Rosemary highlighted how many of the summer camp’s Floortime players go on to become Occupational Therapists (OTs), Physical Therapists (PTs), and Special Education teachers. In addition, one of her players has a diagnosis of Autism. She treated him since he was five years old and eventually went to his high school graduation. He was looking for a job and so she asked if he would like to work for her at their summer camps and Friday social groups six years ago. In 2019, they did a presentation together about play and following a child’s passions. They showed videos of him during sessions at Rosemary’s clinic and camps that he picked and explained how he would look at it now.

They also shared videos of him as a Floortime player in the past few years. Similarly, Monica Osgood at Celebrate the Children has a lot of past students working as support staff in the school. It’s an important aspect, Rosemary states. She has also had a number of parents who say their child has really benefitted from her sessions and camps and that they are ready to be Floortime players for her going forward. This is what’s exciting about this model and this work, she says. It’s a long-term, wholistic approach that really supports overall development, supporting the uniqueness of each child.

Edin’s Journey

On the Profectum Past Conferences link from 2019, March 8th Conference webcasts, you can also see a presentation Rosemary did with Dr. Josh Feder following Edin’s development. They present videos of him through the course of camp, the progress he made in the flow of interaction with his peers, and how he was supported during the camp. Rosemary says that Teresa and her son Edin have been such a positive contribution to the camp. Teresa is happy to share how much Edin benefitted from the camp experience and the ripple effect it has had for the whole family in helping to understand Edin and how to communicate with him.

Edin started attending Rosemary’s summer camp when he was 4 years old and it was their first experience with DIR/Floortime, Teresa says. They were referred by their OT at another facility who suggested that Floortime would match their desire to form a good relationship with their son. Edin is now 10 and Teresa says that meeting Rosemary has been a game changer for her family. When they started, Edin appeared to only be focused on his world. Teresa learned how to become as interesting to him as his world, how to broaden it, and how to get him to be able to trust his family members. That first summer camp let Teresa know that Floortime was where they belonged.

Teresa says that everyday, Edin was so happy and excited to go to camp and this was contrary to their experience with other providers and with school. He didn’t want to leave summer camp at the end of the day. He built beautiful interactions with other campers which sparked more interest in him to be involved. Instead of orbiting the group, he became a part of the group and had the chance to lead activities. One of the things Teresa most appreciates is how these interactions happened naturally in a way that cannot be taught through rote learning. And every day is different, which gives him so many new experiences.

Handling the Challenges

Teresa says that even when something at camp was difficult, they were all working together to process it and to co-regulate, which Teresa felt they didn’t have access to in other environments and how valuable that is to Edin. They have cultivated their home to be a safe place where he is accepted, loved, and can advocate for himself and be heard, and Rosemary’s place provided that for him too. Edin is non-speaking, but he uses a lot of technology, gesturing and intonations to communicate, Teresa explains. His own affect is spot on, she says. He will let you know exactly what he likes or doesn’t.

Teresa continues that Edin will let you know what he’s thinking about. He’ll give cues through his iPad to play songs that relate to how he’s feeling. One day, she was talking to his Dad about a rash he had so he pulled up the Disney song, “Mother Knows Best“. He has such a sense of humour, she says. He is also very active and used to elope (run away) frequently. His impulse fuse was very short, but they’ve been able to lengthen it because he trusts them with his communication–that they hear what he is communicating.

Edin’s Communication Strengths

Edin is incredibly creative with his communication, Teresa says. Rosemary shares that during the pandemic they’ve seen huge development in Edin’s ability to communicate. He’ll set up two iPads to really share his ideas. They went through the Puss in Boots movie and the song with Lady Gaga. There’s so much meaning and symbolism in the shows and a few weeks ago he faced one iPad facing up and organized it with another iPad on top taking a photo of the scene he wants to share. Another time he showed a scene where two characters are communicating with each other from one person’s perspective and he set up the two iPads facing each other like how they would be in real life.

Rosemary offers that we have to take this opportunity to see how Edin sees the world. It’s incredible how much he’s telling us through this non-conventional way, Rosemary says. His interests are spot on with other 10-year-olds. He’s really improved his ability to articulate what he’s thinking. Teresa says he also slows down the speed of the movies to practice his words, too. He also watches shows in many languages! We can learn so much from every child, Rosemary says. Teresa says it’s a different way of communicating and it’s up to us to catch up to their speed.

It’s very exciting to watch… He’s laying it all out. It’s like a treasure map and we just have to follow it!

Teresa, mother of Edin

Impulse Control Improved with Communication

Over the pandemic, like my son, Edin learned how to play video games. Teresa says when he was younger, if he became frustrated, the iPad would be broken. They went through countless iPads–over a dozen, easily. He has been able to teach himself to regulate when he’s frustrated in the games when on the hard levels, and ask for help. He’ll model what they show him, “Oh no!” 

It’s been amazing to see him go from meltdown to working through it with them while staying engaged. Being able to have that give and take has been phenomenal, Teresa shares. Now he can tame that feeling of frustration, work with it, and continue to persevere. I mentioned Mark Rober’s TedX talk about the Super Mario effect where he talks about getting to try things over and over again in video games when things don’t work out.

I also referred back to the podcasts with Joleen Fernald about communication and how much Teresa’s stories give credence to everything Joleen was talking about in the parent Q & A podcast. We also discussed how self-advocates have turned our thinking around about who exactly has the communication ‘problems’. It’s us who have to learn how to communicate with autistics. It’s such a lovely part of the DIR Model: the ‘I’ that respects each person and although we have a model of how each person develops, that development looks different for each child.

Teresa’s story is such a beautiful example of how she is learning Edin’s way of communicating and how they had to catch up to Edin! Rosemary adds that we have to spend time to discover how kids communicate, picking up on the subtleties. Edin has been a great teacher, she says. Last visit, Edin covered himself in a blanket and greeted Rosemary by sticking his arm out of the blanket, then a foot. That was the best greeting she had, she smiled. These lessons deepen the work she does, Rosemary reflects.

This week's PRACTICE TIP:

This week, let’s take a tip from Teresa and wonder how our child is communicating with us when it is different than how we communicate.

For example: If you are trying to get your child to do something they don’t want to do, notice how they are making it clear to you that this is not ok with them. Perhaps they turn away. Perhaps they scream or hit you. Perhaps they recite a script. Take note and let this be useful to you going forward.

Thank you again to Rosemary White for sharing these resources with us and for Teresa for sharing her family’s experience of Floortime and summer camp with Rosemary’s practice. You can learn more about the summer camps here and see Rosemary’s video about her training of staff here. Also, check out Profectum’s Parent Toolbox that Rosemary helped create. Finally, you can see Rosemary’s presentations on two campers growth over time here. If you enjoyed and found it useful and helpful, please do share it on Facebook or Twitter and feel free to share relevant experiences, questions, or comments in the Comments section below.

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

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