Occupational Therapist and DIR Expert Training Leader, Maude Le Roux, of A Total Approach in Glen Mills, PA returns this week to discuss moving slower to move faster. Maude says there’s the Floortime techniques about slowing down and stretching out interactions, but there’s also a global aspect to this topic. Many parents are in the frame of mind of wanting their kids to ‘catch up’ which drives their anxiety and increases a performance demand on the child, she says. While our world has become more and more fast-paced, development has not changed. We explore this topic this week.
Going Slower to Move Faster
A Fast-Paced World
Maude describes how as our world gets faster and faster, babies still develop for nine months in the womb, nervous systems still develop for the first half decade or so, and executive functions still develop into our 20s. Parents want their children to be included but the demands can be too much for our children. Typical developing children are showing anxiety at increased rates, and many of our neurodivergent children have nervous systems that are delayed in development in comparison. This pressure of securing the best possible chance for a child pushes parents to push children.
What makes the nervous system help a child go forward, Maude continues, is the sense of safety and being able to rest within the relationship with a parent. Parents feel the burden of being a teacher, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, etc. and if they don’t keep up, they will fail. Maude says therapists can take some blame for this.
When a parent is focused on all of these pressures, it challenges the necessity to provide safety by responding to the child’s cues for safety. Maude quotes Bonnie Badenoch who says “safety is the therapy“. When a child doesn’t feel safe they will let you know it. When they don’t do what you want them to do, they let you know it by going into flight or freeze.
I brought up the podcast I did with Dr. Gil Tippy about Good Education and how in general, education today is mediocre at best. It’s throwing facts at kids rather than facilitating actual learning. I also referred to Connected Parenting and the Connected Parenting podcast which helps address anxiety in today’s children. I also addressed what Maude talks about in terms of the pressure parents feel in Episode 1 of the new We chose play series.
The Opportunity of the Day
Maude says that many therapists feel that the session will be a failure when children won’t comply and go into flight or freeze. She wants to say that this is the opportunity of the day. This is where you can come in and co-regulate with the child in front of the parent to show them how to rest in the anguish. Self-regulation can only develop with co-regulation as a precursor. We need to look at our child’s schedule and see how much time for rest does our child have? How much pressure is on them to perform?
Rest and Joyful Experiences
I shared that when we brought our son to A Total Approach for his intensives over the years, it was about a fun vacation to ride and see the trains in Strasburg, Pennsylvania and at the Morris Arboretum gardens. Then Ms. Janine at the clinic would have the trains ready in his Floortime sessions, where he could of course then explore and expand. We allowed him these joyful experiences by following his interests. And because the therapists there established such a safe relationship with him, he’d show up first day of the next year as if no time had passed and just carry on.
Building On Good Experiences
Maude says that because the therapists at her clinic had the ‘pennies in the bank’ with my son, he was able to be at ease with them because children remember. The two biggest skills we have for executive function is self-regulation and self-reflection, Maude explains. The self-reflection of autistic children is a lot of long-term memory of emotions of how they felt at certain times which makes them anticipate situations. They can build on good experiences.
So when my son showed signs of readiness to start academics but required a little nudging to challenge him, they had already built those good experiences to help scaffold and support his new learning that he was hesitant about. Their job as therapists, she says, is to let the parents know that the first piece is working on that feeling of safety. Once that security is there, the child can feel in control. We always want the child to feel in control, so they don’t get out of control, Maude says, and dysregulated.
Staying in the Present Moment
The second piece that Maude brings to us this week about going slow is about the pacing and the nervous system. Going slow is crucial to the child, she insists. If a child is truly being met where they are at developmentally, they can go with you to the next step. If the child is with you in this moment, they are in this moment. You may have a goal of fine motor, cutting, to get the child less gravitationally insecure, and all the things the child will need, but in this moment you can only take them one step further. And because you only go one step further, the child can naturally go faster. All of the pushing and prodding only makes children feel unsafe. The performance demands cause anxiety.
You must capitalize on this moment.
Respecting the Moment
I pointed out that you can think you understand the DIR model and how you meet someone where they are in the moment, respect their Individual differences, and use the safety of the Relationship to support the child. Maude is talking about where to meet the child developmentally with her second point, which is about attunement, focus in the moment, your intention, and scaffolding where the child is. I remember Dr. Gil Tippy telling me that it was important to stay with a new motor planning play sequence my son was working on for a few months before he’d push him further. (Dr. Joshua Feder discussed this in the repetition podcast).
I also referred listeners to the podcast on Constrictions a few weeks ago where I went too fast with my son and how I had to meet him where he was at in the moment when we went to the movies. I shared how almost daily I will catch myself expecting things of my son that I know he can do that he won’t be able to do, because he isn’t ready in that moment. If he reacts with dysregulation, that’s communication telling me that he isn’t ready and I have to stop and attune. Although he might be in the higher capacities most of the time, in those moments we need to slow down and go back to the earlier capacities as a solid launching ground that he can then move up from.
Think about yourself. How many risks are you going to take when you’re in a stressful period? Any new learning is risky to the child’s development.
The Systems Surrounding the Child
Maude’s third point after safety and slowing down to stay in the moment, is to look at the systems around the child, such as the education system. We need to put into school Individual Education Plans (IEPs) the time for learning transitions, or the beginning of the year transition plan. They need more time than the typical kids. They are allowed to be in the room, but not to the same level of participation, Maude says. So our children need to be given the time to take everything in and adjust before putting performance demands on them.
One-on-one aids must be shown how to observe when to let go of performance demands and stay in the moment. They must be able to let the child have independence, but move in when needed and learn those observational skills rather than using scripts that they use every time something happens. Human behaviour isn’t the same every time. Look at what the homework is, and look at the goal. Is it to provide safety, or to adhere to a classroom or to get good grades? Sometimes Maude sees adults holding on to the latter goal, forgetting about safety and adherence first.
Maude had a recent update from a former client whose parents were distraught with the child’s meltdowns and this child just got accepted into college and has his driver’s license. Maude says that while they were clients for about four years, they really weren’t involved after that. When you provide this scaffold of support and go slow at their pace, Maude explains, at some point, it all just starts to happen as parents had hoped it would years earlier. I pointed out that in the Foundation Academics podcast, Dr. Gil Tippy pointed out that without that foundation, it’s hard to succeed at higher academics, but with that foundation, you have the opportunity to learn all of school academics relatively quickly if desired.
Sharpening the Brain
While we accept the child for who they are, we can support the child’s brain to help them be who they want to be because the brain is plastic and can adapt across a lifetime. But just like with pacing, Maude says that remedial interventions must be planned at the right time and in the correct sequence. She has parents who tell her they’ve tried Interactive Metronome for timing and sequencing and it didn’t work. Maude will ask when they did it. By the time the child is ready for it, they pick it up because their brain remembers the activity, but the brain can’t always apply it if the scaffold of the previous layer isn’t sturdy enough. Keep working on the brain, but give it periods of rest to assimilate and make sure that the next intervention is building on the previous intervention. That’s when you see the development begin to unfold.
Affect Autism Member Question
A mother says her daughter is getting a little older and seems to be used to my circles of communication. They were always consistent, slow paced, and plentiful. Now, she seems to jump in such as when I’m reading a book aloud to her. She will shout a word in response to something I just read, even though she’s often distracted/multitasking (usually listening to music). When I try to engage her at a slower pace than my reading, she usually ignores me, or eventually picks up the book for me to read again. Even in playtime, she is pushing for quicker responses, but they’re not always the most meaningful circles of communication. Do I continue at her pace? Or do I continue to keep it slow, even if she seems bored and walks away?
Maude says that children will often show boredom when they don’t know what to do next. So first, don’t take her boredom at face value. Assume that she heard you, even if she walks away. Maude has a hunch it could be her working memory, which has to do with multi-tasking, but also with the information one can take in, in any given moment.
You have to look at the sympathetic arousal of her brain as well because if her brain is racing ahead, so slow it down and provide her with less information so she’s not overloaded with the language component as well as with the timing and sequential components that are also a part of the multi-tasking piece. She also says to look into praxis and motor planning which stops the pragmatic speech from entering into working memory. She wouldn’t change what this mother is doing because staying slow is helping support the nervous system.
This week's PRACTICE TIP:
This week catch yourself putting demands on your child and take that pause. Comment on what you see, empathetically, to bring yourself back into the present moment.
For example: “Oh! You weren’t ready to stop playing yet.” or, “Oh! That’s too fast!” or “Oh! You didn’t like that.“
Thank you to Maude Le Roux for getting into this topic with us and helping us understand this aspect of Floortime. Did it clarify some things for you? If you 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 choosing play and experiencing joy everyday!