Why DIR/Floortime?

DIR/Floortime just makes sense. I wanted our fussy child to be happy. I watched numerous therapists who knew nothing about the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model try to make our son do things he was not comfortable doing and I didn’t appreciate being told that I needed to watch my child suffer in order to help him.

DIR/Floortime was fun! I first heard about it watching the evening news. This video shows the results of a study done at York University in Toronto which found that autistic children receiving DIR/Floortime for one year showed “very robust changes in these children’s brains as a result of treatment“.

Neuroscientist Jim Stieben explains that the activity in the amygdala calmed down and the parts that help children tune into social cues were more active: “two-three fold activity changes” in the social brain! Do watch the video!

I couldn’t believe it! Ground-breaking research done in my own city had found neuroscience evidence that DIR/Floortime can literally steer the brain development of an autistic child to support their relating, thinking, and communication skills—the hallmark challenges of autism. As the reporter says, “creating that emotional connection with the child” rather than “teach them how to behave“.

As Dr. Stuart Shanker says in the video, it’s “the possibility of bringing the child into our social world so that the child becomes an active social agent: not a child who responds because we conditioned him or trained him to respond, but a child who interacts because he wants to because it’s fun. And it’s through that process that he will learn meaningful language, that he will learn social skills, that he will develop empathy for other because he will understand things like facial expressions, gestures, and so on...”

I was sick of filling out numerous forms and applications to be put on a 1-to-2-year wait list for services that could maybe help our son, but only if he qualified by showing improvement after six weeks of the intervention, and in the meantime going to useless sessions with hand-outs about activities we could do with our son that we may or may not have implemented properly.

I was sick of guessing what else might help our child if only I spent hundreds or thousands of dollars. I was sick of sifting through contradictory claims of interventions that must be done in order for our son to ‘improve’—as if he wasn’t worthy if he didn’t—interventions that claimed to ‘work’ for various invented reasons that sounded convincing, yet had no valid or agreed upon scientific evidence.

I was sick of seeing our public tax dollars spent on bureaucracy and salaries of wonderful professionals who provided this general information rather than on direct coaching and a program for our family who needed support and help now. I was sick of being told that the goal for our son’s therapies was for him to be classroom-ready. Really?

And I was sick of questioning myself for what I might have done to have caused our son to have so many developmental challenges in the first place, whether it be by vaccinating him, by feeding him the wrong foods, or by living in an area with too much pollution. Every other kid around us with the same conditions did not have these challenges so that just felt downright unfair and cruel.

DIR/Floortime was a breath of fresh air. We just watched what our son was interested in then joined him in his play—no matter what that looked like. At the time it was following our wandering son around the room, presenting him with various toys and items until he explored one. The toy might have even been one or both of us.

Once our son was regulated and attentive with an activity, even for a second, we could get his engagement by joining him in his activity and we might even get a back-and-forth going of gestures, glances, body language, sounds or words.

With coaching from DIR/Floortime certified practitioners we learned how to harness our child’s interests to support his development by challenging him with the slightest bit of variation in what he would already have mastered. By playfully challenging him a little bit when he was engaged and happy, we could help him figure out something new.

The more I learned about the DIR model, the more convinced I became. The DIR model took the latest research that all learning is based on affect, and took a bottom-up approach by looking at the child from birth forward.

Children and adults of all ages can benefit from this approach, but the DIR model also shows us how to notice red flags in development much earlier in order to facilitate social development before our children ‘fall into’ their own isolated world because they are lacking our appropriate support and guidance.

This allows parents to support their child’s developmental progress and bring out their child’s authentic self, as opposed to trying to correct disruptive behaviours after they have become the child’s reality due to a lack of support and/or understanding.

Dr. Greenspan figured out more than two decades ago that you can catch the underlying issues as early as in infancy using his validated assessment, the Greenspan Social Emotional Growth Chart, to determine if a child is showing risk factors for developmental delays. Ami Klin has also developed an early screening tool so that we can intervene and attenuate the developmental ‘path of learning’. We’d love to see more paediatricians everywhere using such tools to catch the early signs much earlier than the standard 18-month check-up.

If the child is at risk of not being in a shared world, DIR/Floortime can ‘woo’ the child back into interactions with the caregivers in order to facilitate the development of the necessary neural pathways for relating, communicating, and thinking—the hallmark challenges of autistic children and avoid the anxieties that accompany not being able to communicate your needs and desires.

Dr. Greenspan described how you can spot the risk factors in a young baby and facilitate neurodevelopment before challenges in relating, communicating, and thinking become even more apparent.

You can access Dr. Greenspan’s Functional Emotional Assessment Scales to see if your child shows signs of developmental delays at this link

Dr. Greenspan also recorded weekly radio shows which you can now access that provide a rich source of information about this approach for parents and others interested. Please listen in. There’s no better way to learn than from the direct source himself, Dr. Greenspan.

If your instincts have lead you to DIR/Floortime because you are on the fence about ABA, you might be interested in Dr. Gil Tippy’s series of presentations entitled ‘ABA Detox’, which is shown below. While many families have found ABA to be the answer for them, other families want another option. Parents should have a choice in what programs their child receives. Every child responds differently to different options.

You can sign up for updates to follow my blog posts where I’ll share many examples of how to apply the DIR model and do Floortime with your own child.

I will be providing new content regularly and will welcome your participation in the free weekly online Parent Support Drop In.

You can invite out your child’s developmental potential using the DIR/Floortime approach!