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What is Floortime?

Formally, it is called the Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based (DIR) model, though it is frequently referred to as “Floortime,” which is actually a component of the larger DIR model. Greenspan indicated that the primary insight that guides the DIR/Floortime model is that “language and cognition, as well as emotional and social skills, are learned through relationships that involve emotionally meaningful exchanges”. Drawing upon concepts from attachment theory and interpersonal neurobiology, the DIR/Floortime approach emphasizes the fundamental importance of interactions with caregivers in virtually all aspects of development and learning. Beginning with concepts like warmth, affect regulation, and gesturing, progressing to contingent emotional signaling, and then to higher-level cognitive skills such as problem-solving and abstract thinking, this approach maintains that the sine qua non of optimal mind and brain development is a fundamental sense of relatedness with a trusted caregiver.

Floortime is the mechanism through which parents engage their children and facilitate mastery of these stages. During floortime sessions, the parent or caregiver is directly engaged in play activities with the child. The most critical aspect of the floortime approach is that the parent always strives to follow the child’s lead and responds to whatever seems to be motivating to the child in the moment. Through careful attention to the child’s behaviors, affects, and interests, the parent attempts to identify the emotional tone of the child’s play and then join in with him or her on that level. Parents look for opportunities to build on their child’s behaviors or verbalizations and ultimately to close circles of communication so that the child learns how to engage in increasingly complex exchanges.

Children with ASD, in particular, seem prone to engaging in repetitive play, which oftentimes may seem to be lacking any real purpose or drama. From a floortime perspective, however, this is not the case. The parent maintains an active presence, constantly making gestures (e.g., smiling, frowning, pointing, etc.) and thus remaining actively involved in creating a level of depth and complexity to the play. Again, it is the process of communication and involvement with the child, not simply the topics or activities, that is considered to be of primary importance. When a child’s play becomes repetitive, it is an indication that he or she needs more floortime, not less. Over time, the child is able to integrate more and more into his or her experience with the parent, including cognitive tasks, emotional states, functional communication, and perspective-taking, all behaviors that contribute to the development of a more secure attachment.

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