Close your eyes and imagine this scene with me. You are in a coffee shop meeting one of your dear friends. You have some exciting news to tell them. Only as you are talking, they seem distracted. You think, “Are they even listening?” You may want to directly ask them this, but instead you ask, “Hey, are you doing okay? You seem deep in thought.”
What have we just done by asking this question? We have attempted to enter into our friend’s world. Because we care, we try to figure out what they are thinking about, to better understand what is consuming their thoughts. All of this, so we can engage with one another.
For those of you that have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or frequently interact with an individual with ASD, let’s replay this scenario. Only this time, you are at your house. You are finishing breakfast and reviewing your schedule for the day. Individuals with ASD benefit from structured routines, so it is beneficial to communicate changes in their daily schedule. You are taking time to explain the schedule to the child to help make the day a success, except the child across from you is not listening. They are off in their own world.
Would you typically respond to the child the same way you responded to your friend, by asking what they were thinking about? The answer is probably no. We chalk it up to them not listening and tell them, “Focus!” With this approach, we are missing our opportunity to engage with them. We are trying to pull them out of their reality and into ours, instead of joining their reality as we did when we asked our friend what they were thinking about.
What is Floortime™
One way to enter the world of a person with ASD is through the use of Floortime™. Floortime™ is derived from the Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based (DIR®/Floortime™) Model. The DIR® model is tailored to assist clinicians, parents and educators to have a comprehensive assessment on foundational information of social, emotional, and intellectual capacities for children with ASD (Greenspan & Wieder, 2008).
D for Development
Development looks at the natural progress of developmental skills such as emotional regulation, social interaction, etc, and other foundational skills needed to engage with others to build relationships and for mastery of academic skills (Greenspan & Wieder, 2008).
I for Individual Differences
Individual differences concern the specific biological bases that are unique for each person. It refers to the way an individual comprehends, regulates, and responds to their environments and interaction, such as to sounds or sequencing of tasks and ideas (Greenspan & Wieder, 2008).
R for Relationship-based
This looks at the relationships a child has with caregivers, educators, therapists, peers and others. Personalizing how one interacts with the child allows opportunities for the child to progress in mastering the essential foundations for further development of relational skills (Greenspan & Wieder, 2008).
How to Integrate Floortime™
Floortime™ technique uses the DIR model to guide how one interacts with a child with ASD. The child is the leader, and the adult follows along, engaging the child’s emotional interests. This allows the adult to enter the child’s world and then be able to gently direct the child toward mastery of emotional, cognitive, and physical developmental skills. Let’s take a look back at our breakfast scenario.
You ask your little one, “What are you thinking about?” He (or she) expresses how the room is hot lava and he is planning his escape route. Bingo! We have found an in to challenge the him developmentally by entering their world. You ask, “Oh, can I help you find a way out?” After jumping tile to tile and safely making it to the living room, you can now integrate the schedule. You suggest that the tiles are all the things we have to do today to make it through the lava. As you jump from tile to tile, you pause and say what activity that tile represents. Jump on tile number 1: “We have baseball this morning.” Jump on tile number 2: “We drop your sister off at a birthday party.” Jump on tile number 3: “We have some free time with just you and me, what would be something we can do that would be fun?”
Through this exercise, you have not only been engaging physically, but also mentally. Outlining the day addresses attention as well as problem solving by asking the child to help figure out what activity could be done during free time. This technique is great for any environment, and I personally feel that the pool offers opportunities that others might not. Decreased gravity provides a safe environment to be able to effectively challenge a child safely without worrying about bumps and falls. It also is a wonderful setting to work on sequence processing and critical thinking as the child’s body will move differently and feel different than the typical setting outside of the water.
I understand that every child and situation is unique. Not all situations are going to play out like the example above, and the way to engage in Floortime™ may not be straight forward initially. This is where I want to challenge you. Are you asking the appropriate questions or using techniques to try and enter into the child’s world? Be creative! The many and varied opportunities to engage are beneficial for the child’s development, as well as the development of your relationships.
At One with the Water, we use every tool at our disposal to ensure we are communicating safely and honestly with your children. Help us help children with ASD. Partner with us today to teach economically disadvantaged children, special needs children, and Service-Disabled Veterans to become One with the Water! When you donate now, you can help reduce the risk of drowning for children by up to 88%, and teach children with Autism to learn to swim. Be a hero and help us save the life of a child.
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Greenspan, S. & Wieder, S. (2008). What is the DIR®/Floortime™ Model? Retrieved from http://www.infantva.org/documents/CoPa-June-DIR-FloortimeModel.pdf
Molly is a member of our creative team, mom of four water-loving babies, and a fierce advocate for CPR training and really early swim instruction.