This Week’s Guest

Occupational Therapist Maude Le Roux is a DIR Expert and Training Leader and has a DIR/Floortime clinic, A Total Approach, in Glen Mills, PA, just outside Philadelphia and they are opening a satellite location in Allentown, PA as well soon. She is a trainer in many other modalities of remediation and can be found training at her Maude Le Roux Academy and for the International Council on Devleopment and Learning (ICDL) both online and in person around the world. She has been a guest here many times.

Visualization leads to Imagination

by Affect Autism

This Week’s Topic

I’m especially excited about today’s topic, visualization and imagination because it’s where I’m currently at with my son. We will discuss the complexity of visualization and imagination, and the role the Functional Emotional Developmental Capacities (FEDCs) in the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) Model play.

Bonus Insights

Constrictions in Visualization

*SPOILER ALERT* At the end of the Super Mario movie, Bowser launches the bullet bill to destroy the Mushroom Kingdom and Mario has the tanooki racoon suit that gives him super speed, so he flies and stops the bullet. We were driving to school and my son was talking about it. I said, “Hmm…I wonder what would have happened if Mario wouldn’t have had the tanooki costume…” I did not get a response. I tried a few more times in different ways, without offering any parts of an answer he could memorize. Nothing.

A few days later, we had the movie on and that part came up. Right before the bullet is launched, Princess Peach uses her ice flower to freeze Bowser, and when Bowser unfreezes is when he gives to order to launch the bullet. I asked my son again, as Mario was flying in his tanooki suit after the bullet, what would happen if he didn’t have the tanooki suit?

My son replied, “He would have gotten the ice flower and froze him!” It was a response! But, it was what he had just seen Peach do. It wasn’t a new idea. He’s only really able to talk about what he’s seen. I explained to Maude that even if I ask him about other superpowers, he can only tell you what superpowers are in the Mario universe. He can’t think about any novel powers.

Where is Visualization in the FEDCs?

Maude says that visualization fits in the fourth Functional Emotional Developmental Capacity (FEDC) and higher, most of the time, but that you’re already working on it in FEDC 1, 2, and 3 to get there. In the beginning of life, babies start to explore objects, she explains. They take it in their hands, bring it to their mouth, they feel it, they touch it, they hear it, and do all of these sensory pieces. They figure out the qualities about it. It makes an entry in the memory parts of the brain so you know what an object looks like and what it can do. 

What we visualize, though, Maude continues, depends on our experiences. If Maude says, “tree“, I might picture a maple tree while she pictures an apple tree. There is object constancy in that they are different trees, but it’s still the same object: a tree. Then, you start crawling and start exploring the ‘where’. The object is the ‘what’ but in exploring in the visual-spatial world, you get the ‘where’, Maude explains. You build a network specifically for ‘cup’, or ‘banana’, or ‘book’, but in the brain, those images come from those different spaces and you can imagine that you can have a book on top of a cup or vice versa. When you bring these images together, that’s in FEDC 4.

If you take this piece and now think about Dr. Greenspan, Maude continues, he said that you do not conquer the fourth capacity unless you have 60+ ideas per session. Those were his words every single year, Maude asserts. Ideation was key to FEDC 4. We talk about complex problem solving, but it’s coming from the fact that we have an idea to solve a problem. So, that visualization to get to ideation is so crucial. 

Some kids don’t visualize, Maude says. If you give them a screen with a movie bringing a picture to them, they will remember in long term memory, such as what Mario or Princess Peach did and they will bring that to you when you ask them, but to take that memory reel and activate the ‘what’ and the ‘where’ to bring a new visualization picture is hard. It takes a lot of integration from knowing what an object is, where it is located, then bringing them together in your brain without it being concrete in front of you.

Ideation and Visualization

I responded that 60+ ideas are ideation, but ideas might be from something they know, whereas imagination is about things you haven’t seen. Maude says that visualization leads to imagination. If you boil it down to a person being in your space who brings a different idea to my idea, then I add something else, then yes, this idea can be from past experiences, but what’s unique is that the person gave you something different that made you have to search in your background to fit something into that place. That is the novel ideation, Maude states.

What would be novel is how you can apply your past experience to what we’re talking about, and make it relevant to everyone, Maude continues. This is where the complexity overlaps in terms of memory–long term and working memory–in that you have to pull together the different parts to decide what would be relevant to this conversation now. That’s why Greenspan said we keep expanding in FEDC 4 on each other’s ideas. It comes from your experiences, yes, but you are applying it to new situations, Maude explains.

Some people have aphantasia, which means they can’t think in pictures. They will see the word, ‘tree’ but not a picture of a tree–only the letters t-r-e-e. It’s very hard to test for. If they can’t think of what next to do, and concretely look for the next idea inside the room and say “ball“, for example, they’re still working on visualization, Maude explains. It could be because they can’t and have aphantasia, but it could also be that the ‘what’ and ‘where’ haven’t yet come together yet, she says.

What about the ‘social’ piece?

For the social part of the fourth capacity, this visualization piece, which links up to the imagination piece, Maude explains, is also what will be involved in understanding the social perspective of another. This is why the fourth capacity (FEDC 4) is so important. It can be a challenge to get into the full expansion of this capacity for some of our kids. When a person in front of us is showing affect, our theory of mind has to take us to a place of visualization to figure out that what they showed me is linked to an element of surprise or confusion, for example. Then you have to be able to figure out how to respond. It starts in FEDC 4, but the social-emotional piece goes through into FEDC 5 and FEDC 6, Maude says. It’s complex.


I explained to Maude that if I say, “What did you say?” with a stern tone, my son can figure out that he needs to adjust, so there’s a basic element of theory of mind there. There’s different gradients of it. If he’s impulsive and kicks another child when he’s dysregulated, he isn’t able to realize or think in that moment that it will hurt the other child, and the consequences–social or otherwise–of that going forward. Maude says that going back to my son’s response to my question about Mario not having the tanooki suit, it was cool that he could connect it to the ice flower, even though it was in his short-term memory. He gave a response.


Maude says that kids who struggle with visualization tend to struggle with understanding the passage of time. They don’t quite get what’s the past, the present, and the future, so the process of thinking about what could have, would have, or should have happened is tough to negotiate. Their brain doesn’t yet have a walkable pattern on a continuum to bring up the pictures of what Mario did at the beginning of the movie, or then when he did this, and then where he is currently. It hangs into the impulsivity to just say or do the first thing that comes to mind because the way to process choices doesn’t happen, she explains. So, working on visualization while working on timing is crucial.


Yes, I explained to Maude that if I say I’ll pick him up at 5pm, he’ll ask me to pick him up at 6:00 and I’ll say, “No, I’m coming at 5:00.” He’ll protest, “No! 7:00!“, not really understanding that that is actually later than 5:00! He’s starting to be able to recall events a bit more when I ask what he did today at school. He can follow the concept of a calendar. He asks everyday, “What happens when you pick me up?” or “on Friday” or “on Saturday“, etc. So, he is clearly trying to figure out time, but it’s still not understood yet.


I offered to Maude that I will play out different scenarios from that movie scene. She said, yes, to start out playing out the scene exactly as it is. That is a strength, and DIR/Floortime is a strength-based model. Next, she continues, you put little pieces in place that don’t belong–a little playful obstruction, as peacefully as possible. You can bring in a character who’s not in the scene, and eventually one that isn’t even from their movie interest. If they throw it across the room because it doesn’t belong, Maude will just say, “And Mario (or whomever) went flyyyyying!” like you intended that to be purposeful, even though they’re looking at you like it doesn’t belong!

Maude would then pick it up and put it back in there again playfully. The playfulness is what’s most important because this is difficult. Some autistics have a video reel in their mind that plays all day. For them, it’s a way to keep their brain stimulated and in a certain space where they feel comfortable and safety, as we all seek that. You can enter into that video reel through having the characters they like three-dimensional in front of them, Maude explains.

Games and Activities

Maude likes to do the brown bag game. In front of them, hide an object that they can see. You put the character in the bag and ask them to guess what’s in the bag. You pull it out and say they’re right. Then you do it so they can’t see what you put in the bag. They can ask questions. “Is it hard? Is it soft?” As they ask, they have to form a picture in their mind. If they guess, “a rabbit” you can say, “Oh, that’s close…it’s got shorter ears!” It’s a semi-structured game that you can add into your day. It can become a sibling game. The one who guesses first, gets to go next, for example. It trains the brain to start visualizing, she explains.

You can also do drawing, Maude says. You can ask what the object looks like and you can draw. “Where do you want me to draw the head?” As they think about what it looks like, they explain it to you. You can also ask them to draw it. “I’m thinking of a…” It’s a way of exploring visualization. You have to have this basic piece before you can have theory of mind and before you can have thoughts and feelings of someone else. You need to be able to picture what is the thought and idea of another person. I pointed out that in Season 2 of We chose play, Maude mentioned that you have to understand your own feelings and thoughts inside of you before you can understand what’s in someone else’s. 

Let no one ever tell us that play is not educationally relevant. It’s so untrue.

Occupational Therapist Maude Le Roux

I told Maude that many parents might say their children won’t be able to do those games, such as asking about what is in the bag. That might mean that you can strengthen the earlier capacities first. Yes, Maude says, but do make sure you are following their interests, such as Mario characters with my son.

I said that I expect my son would just guess every character without asking about their qualities until he guessed correctly, which is not really the purpose of the game. Maude replied that you could say, “No, I’m not going to tell you who it is unless you tell me what they look like!” Language development coincides with all of these things, too, Maude points out. The way you start is with what they are interested in. If they love Mario, get those characters.

If they’re not interested right away, Maude suggests bringing the character to the lunch table with them and give the character a plate too. Sometimes Maude might put the character in the swing before they come in the therapy room.
You’re starting to expose them to the ‘what’ and the ‘where’. They have to explore the object and the places where they can appear. 

Recent experiences are the most powerful due to the continuum of time, Maude suggests. If you went to the beach on Sunday, then play a beach scene on Monday. Talk about what happened all day, bringing the happy things that happened and the stressful things that happened into the play. Going to the mall, going to the dentist, or whatever. Experiences drive the long term memory, but also the ‘what’ and the ‘where’, so you have to then link those things up, she emphasizes.

I also thought of saying, “Hmm… I wonder what Bowswer would do now?” Maude might simple it down by saying, “Bowser! Bowser! Talk to me!” rather than asking a question. Maybe he can speak up as Bowser, or maybe he won’t. He might script what Bowser says, and Maude says, that’s fine; take it. Then add something he didn’t say. Just keep pulling at it. Maude says she’s not against screen time, but just too much screentime. The guidelines are no screentime before age 2, and after that only with a parent watching with them until age 6, with a max of 2 hours per day.


Maude suggests storytelling. Don’t tell them what you think about the story. Let their mind go. You can say, “Hmm… I wonder what this picture will look like when we get to that page? I wonder what his face will look like when that happens? If you had to write an ending to this story, what idea do you have?” The more animated the parent can be, the more you can engage the child, Maude says. When you read, you have to imagine everything in your mind. Even make up stories. You can say, “You know, I wrote a story while you were at school today.” You’re just painting a picture for the child to start painting their own picture. You’re just opening the door for them. The beauty of what the world has to offer is not there without imagination.

This moment in time is the scaffold for tomorrow. What you build in capacity today is what’s going to ensure that your future worry is being worked on. These experiences are so crucial. If you don’t have imagination, it’s very hard to have reading comprehension.

Occupational Therapist Maude Le Roux

This week’s PRACTICE TIP:

This week let’s aim to tell our children stories about a topic of their interest that we make up, being very animated, to help them visualize.

For example: My son loves Super Mario Bros. so I will follow Maude’s direction and say that I made up a story while he was at school and tell him a novel story about his favourite Mario characters that he hasn’t seen or heard before.

I will include the story I make up in this week’s Insights for Affect Autism members.

Thank you to Maude Le Roux for sharing her knowledge about how visualization develops and leads to imagination. 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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