DIR/Floortime® for Children with Autism at Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center is Changing Lives

bCute child with painted handsy Bridget Palmer MA, CCC-SLP

Many children with challenges in relating and communicating struggle to connect with others around them. They may not smile, laugh, or play peek-a-boo as easily as other children. So, how do we engage these children to capture the “gleam in their eyes” that is natural to being understood and understanding another human being?

One strategy, from the resource guide For Parents, By Parents is, “Remember that the goal of joyful engagement is for your child to regard YOU as the best toy in the room.” At Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center (BHSC), teachers and therapists woo and entice children to capture the gleam in their eyes using a therapy called the Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-Based Model, also known as the DIR/Floortime® Model.

The late Dr. Stanley Greenspan worked with psychologist Serena Wieder to create this intervention that focuses on a child’s unique social, emotional, biological and intellectual capacities, rather than on skills and isolated behaviors to promote learning and development. Floortime reaches children where they are developmentally.

Sherri Cawn, leading practitioner and faculty member of the DIR/Floortime® Institute who trained extensively with Drs. Greenspan and Weider, says, “Floortime is a warm and intimate way of relating to a child. It means engaging, respecting and getting in tune with the child to help the child elaborate through gestures, words, and pretend play what is on the child’s mind.”

The five steps in Floortime are:

1. Observe to see and hear the child’s interests or what he or she is engaged in.

2. Approach the child with appropriate words, affect, and gestures to open the circle of communication by acknowledging the child’s emotional tone, to elaborate and build upon the child’s interests at that moment.

3. Follow the child’s lead, interest, or idea by being a supportive play partner, joining the child’s ideas.

4. Take the child’s ideas and expand them by following the child’s lead. Build upon it as a play partner, not a movie director. Comment on what you see and hear, and ask questions you don’t know the answers to.

5. Close the circle of communication. As you opened the circle of communication in step two, help the child close the circle by responding to your affect, comments, and gestures with the child’s own affect, comments, and gestures, perhaps even opening additional circles.

If we added a sixth step it would be to “Have fun,” because when you and your child have fun together, you capture the gleam in their eyes.

The DIR/Floortime® Model helps both children and adults with communication disorders, including autism. Learn more at www.icdl.com and www.profectum.org. To understand or observe how Floortime is being implemented at Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center (BHSC) call Patricia Halton at 716-885-8871, extension 2246 or email her at phalton@askbhsc.org.

About the Author
Bridget Palmer is a pediatric speech-language pathologist and autism team leader, and a frequent lecturer who works at Liberty POST. Bridget treats individuals with communication, regulatory, and sensory challenges, including autism, and assists therapists at BHSC and other local agencies in implementing DIR/Floortime® Model. Contact Bridget at bridget.a.palmer@gmail.com.