The Art and Science of DIR/Floortime
By: Jennie Trocchio, Ph.D.
The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based (DIR)/ Floortime approach, provides a theoretical and practical model that helps educators, clinicians, and parents comprehensively assess and create an intervention program that is tailored to the individual strengths and challenges of each child. This interdisciplinary approach, pioneered by Serena Wieder, PhD, and the late Stanley Greenspan, MD, emphasizes that development occurs within the context of relationships. Here, shared interactions between therapist and/or parent and child that are responsive, reciprocal, developmentally appropriate, motivating, and tailored to the need of the individual create the foundation necessary for development to occur across areas.
Using the DIR/Floortime approach, professionals and parents partner to create an individualized profile for each child, based on the child’s biological needs, sensory sensitivities, interests, family relationships, interactive patterns, and developmental levels. The interdisciplinary team is then able to examine the complex interactions between biology and experience to ultimately understand the child’s behavior through a developmental lens, thus enabling the team to create an individualized and comprehensive program based on the child and family’s unique profile.
The DIR/Floortime approach to intervention can be considered both an art a science. Science has proven its effectiveness and provides a framework for comprehensive intervention. However, the Floortime interactions can be considered an art, where the parent or professional must use the knowledge of the child’s individual profile to tailor his/her interactions to meet the needs of the child in a way that is fun and meaningful.
Let’s break it down a bit:
Since autism is a neuro-developmental disorder (meaning something is happening in the brain and development is off-course), it makes sense to use a developmental approach to intervention in order to get development back on track. To do this, we must first determine where the child is developmentally based on the Functional Emotional Developmental Levels (FEDL’s) outlined below:
- Self-Regulation and Attention
- Engagement and Relating
- Use Affect to Convey Intent/ Two-way Communication
- Purposeful problem-solving interactions/ Development of complex sense of self
- Elaborating Ideas/ Representational capacity and elaboration of symbolic thinking
- Building bridges between ideas/ Emotional Thinking
Reciprocal interactions at the appropriate developmental level allow the child to move up developmentally and to strengthen foundational capacities.
When creating an intervention program, it is important to take into consideration each child’s unique interests, sensory-motor profile, and strengths. Parents and professionals must consider how a child’s sensory system is taking in and organizing information, how the language and auditory systems work, the motor systems, and the child’s visual spatial processing abilities. We all have differences in these specific areas, leading us to have different learning styles, different personalities, and different experiences. This profile determines how we experience the world, interact with others, and learn.
Once individual differences are understood and addressed through meaningful interactions at the appropriate developmental level, learning occurs at a much more rapid pace.
Relationships set the foundation for all learning and all development. Take a moment and consider the individuals you have learned the most from throughout your life. Chances are, your list includes a parent, friend, mentor and/or favorite teacher. We learn from those who take the time to engage with us, who find out the way we learn, and who help us believe in ourselves. The influence that relationships have on our personal and brain development are both enormous and drastically underestimated. Once strong relationships are built with therapists and/or caregivers, the child feels more comfortable, motivated, and secure to interact and learn in a safe and supportive setting.
Floortime is the art and the heart of the DIR/Floortime approach to intervention.
Floortime is also where the D, I, and R come together through playful and child-led interactions. This begins by developing a relationship with the child. Parents and therapists are encouraged to follow and respond to the child’s lead, their intent, their interests, and their often-subtle cues. This provides a ‘window’ into how the child is experiencing the world and allows an opportunity for the parent or therapist to join the child in interactions at the appropriate developmental level, while tailoring interactions to the child’s individual differences. Floortime strategies can then be used to expand the interactions as each child is supported up the developmental ladder. Effective Floortime strategies must be personalized for each child based on their individual profile, and therefore what works for one child may not work for another.
The art and science of DIR/Floortime combine to create an effective, individualized, and comprehensive approach to intervention. Whereas many other intervention approaches focus on teaching rote skills through repetition or managing behaviors, DIR/Floortime takes the whole child into consideration and uses playful interactions, based on the child’s unique needs, to build strong developmental foundations. Each child with autism is a unique individual, experiencing the world in their own unique way. When we are able to interact with a child and understand the way he or she understands the world around them, significant progress can be made that will last a lifetime.
Interested in learning more about Jennie Trocchio’s course, “Assessment and Intervention Strategies Using the DIR/Floortime Approach?” Click here!
Links to Resources and Further Information related to DIR/Floortime and related approaches: