Gauging our Developmental Capacities: Part 2

by Affect Autism

Bonus Insights

Capacity 4: Complex Communication and Shared Problem-Solving

At this capacity, Colette explains, we’re looking for individuals to use multiple circles of communication in a continuous flow. The individual can use this type of exchange to solve a problem, such as getting someone to help me get my toy to work or help me to reach that toy on the shelf. It’s also about sense of self and agency where an individual knows what effect they can have on the world. Colette says to think of the toddler who tosses the spoon on the floor to see that the parent picks it up, then throws it on the floor again! 

At this capacity, Colette wants to see an individual be able to say “no, and also “yes” so they have the agency to advocate for themselves, including a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ button on an AAC device. If we are always telling our child, “No“, that experience of what will happen next is not given to them. Also at this capacity is the development of ideas such as seeing a toy and having an idea of what to do with it. Capacity 4 is taught twice in ICDL’s training program in DIR 201 and again in DIR 202. In neurotypical children, it’s called the ‘terrible two’s’, which Colette calls ‘the terrific two’s’.

This capacity is all about curiosity and exploration, Colette explains. It is about touching everything and figuring out how things work. It’s also the beginning of imaginary play where it is simple play such as my son mimicking what he saw on PJ Masks, for instance. He would not yet have an idea of his own. 

In this capacity, individuals also learn the concept of something having a beginning, a middle, and an end. Theory of mind, or understanding another person’s point of view, is just starting as well. That word ‘sharing’ is one of Colette’s least favourite words. When we ask someone to share, we’re saying that another person wants to play with you toy. But if you are not at the point where you can’t understand another person’s point of view, it just means that you’re taking my toy and I will go into fight or flight because I don’t know what’s going on.

Play through the capacities

When discussing play, Colette reminds us that the first two capacities are about sensory play with bright sounds or lights, or banging or throwing toys, or putting something in and out of something. But in capacities 3 and 4, we now get into more functional play where characters might go somewhere. This is followed by more symbolic play in the 5th and 6th capacities where the play has a storyline that is not in a movie and is about an idea of their own where the individual comes up with a story which is different than replaying something they saw.

Capacity 5: Using Symbols and Creating Emotional Ideas

In Capacity 5, you are out of the concrete world and into the abstract world. You can see an idea that’s out there, and you have an idea in your own head, and you can put the two together to make something new. You see more emotional ideas,
you have more emotions and put them into your play now. You generate your own ideas, and you’re able to hold a picture in your head. You can think about something without it being there. This is where the beginning of academics should be because you can now hold a picture of what a number represents, which is being symbolic. If someone mentions an apple, you don’t have to have an apple in front of us to eat to know what it is.

Capacity 6: Logical Thinking and Building Bridges Between Ideas

In this 6th capacity, it’s about being able to say that your car is on its way to Florida to visit Grandma who will make you cookies. The individual is combining many ideas and putting them together logically. This is also where one can answer ‘wh’ questions such as wanting to go play outside because it’s nice out when asked ‘why’. They can they think about it, understand the meaning, and generate an idea and answer it versus repeating a memorized answer.

When in play, never ask a question that you already know the answer to such as what colour something is, Colette says. Instead we might ask where the car is going or “What are you building?” to promote thinking. This capacity also is where individuals are understanding time and space more. This is hard for our kids who live in the moment! I gave the example of how hard it is for my son to wait for his birthday in May since Christmas when he received so many gifts. 

There are many cognitive ways to understand time, but our kids need to understand what it feels like to experience an hour, a day, or a month. Advent calendars and various traditions help with this. Colette says to start in small increments such as when parents give a 5-minute warning, or a 1-minute warning. Having to wait one minute to eat the ice cream helps a child feel that one minute time span. I also tend to count down to help my son.

I gave Dr. Gil Tippy‘s tips to me for playing with my son at Capacity 6 and asking about his Mario Kart play sequences which are still mostly him mapping out what he’s memorized in his head versus having his own ideas. He suggested asking, “Why would Bowser throw someone into the lava? I would never do something like that!” so that he can wonder what I’m thinking about that’s different than what’s in his head. This is where we push in Floortime to promote abstract thinking.

Gauging Ourselves

Supporting the individual at the higher capacities can be nerve wracking for us if we are not at the higher capacities ourselves, Colette shares. We’re on the developmental ladder as well. If we’ve had a bad day, or a night of bad sleep, we might be dysregulated, so we might have to bring the play down a bit first before bringing it back up again. It’s a constant checking in with where we are at in this moment and whether or not we can have social reciprocity with our own profile in that moment. Opening more than a few circles can be hard if we are not regulated and engaged.

Things Parents Do:

  • Directing your child, teaching: Sometimes we have to give directions, Colette says, but our kids need to be regulated to hear them, engage to attend to them, and have meaning making to act on them. The other piece is in play when we want the play to go our ‘right’ way which is our idea, but it may not be our play partner’s idea. They might want a boat to go to the moon instead of into the water. We have to be ok with that. This is about following the lead, which is following their ideas. If they are in sensory play, that’s what they can do with that object, so if we want to join it, get a bucket and catch the objects, then bring them back and catch them again to get reciprocity around something they can do.
  • Not waiting for a child to respond: Colette mentioned last podcast about the gift of time where we wait so the individual has a chance to respond; waiting for the circle to be returned. I gave the example of how in play with an Occupational Therapist years ago, my son moved around the room and came back. I thought I had ‘lost’ him, but he just needed to move to regulate himself before re-engaging with us.
  • Respond to a child’s response with a new idea instead of staying with the child’s idea: Sometimes if parents don’t know what to do, they’ll bring in a new toy and try to do that rather than stay with what the child is doing. Even if the individual’s idea is nonsensical to us, we want to stay attuned to them and validate their idea because that’s what they can do in that moment. Figure out how to make it interactive, Colette advises.
  • Using too many words: We need to gauge our own capacities to meet the individual where they’re at which might be back down to gestural communication.
  • Rushing our kids through distress: Often we want to tell our kids they’re ok rather than tolerate a little bit of stress to help co-regulate them through it. An important piece of this is to allow the individual to feel felt. If they feel hurt and we say “You’re fine“, that individual doesn’t feel like we feel their pain. When you don’t have your needs met when you’re younger, Colette says, you stop trusting your body’s signals because the cry when they were hungry wasn’t met, so they learn not to trust the hunger signal, for instance. We need to tune in to the individual’s emotional state in that moment which leads to secure attachment and that safe relationship that we need for healthy development, she reinforces.
This week’s PRACTICE TIP:

This week let’s check ourselves and catch ourselves if we do any of the bullet points mentioned above.

For example: Are you directing or teaching your child instead of attuning? Are you responding before giving your child a chance to respond (in whatever gestural way they do) or using too many words? Are you interrupting their play with your own ideas? Are you rushing your child through their distress instead of staying with them, co-regulating by attuning in the moment?

Thank you to Colette for providing such helpful descriptions of each foundational developmental capacity in the DIR Model and how we can gauge our own capacities in meeting our child’s developmental needs in any moment. I hope that you learned something valuable and will share it on Facebook or Twitter and feel free to share relevant experiences, questions, or comments in the Comments section below. 

Until next time, here’s to choosing play and experiencing joy everyday!

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