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Each child with autism experiences the disorder differently and there is an abundance of therapies for parents to try. The National Institute of Mental Health recommends that only one therapy is attempted at a time so as to be able to accurately monitor its effectiveness. Floortime for autism is a safe therapy and inexpensive if you learn how to perform it yourself. The cons are, it is time consuming, and requires a large amount of energy and commitment.
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Floortime and Autism: The DIR Model
Floortime or the DIR model (Developmental, Individual difference, Relationship based) is a therapy that works by following the natural interests of the child. It is an intense method of play between child and caretaker or therapist. Floortime was developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan founder and director of the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning disorders.
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How Floortime Works
Floortime works as an autism therapy because it attacks two of the largest deficits found in autism; communication and play skills. Since Floortime is a method of hyperactive play, it helps to engage an autistic child who may have difficulty staying interested. A child may be playing with a toy car by themselves and then the therapist, who may be the parent, will hide the toy. The therapist then encourages the child to find the car quickly while sounding like Mickey Mouse for example. When the child finds the toy, they are praised with much excitement. Because the therapist is joining the child's world, this creates a connection.
Floortime involves mini-sessions of play, 20-30 minutes in length, up to 8 times in a day. It works with communication circles and building and expanding these circles following the child's interests. In the example above the child is engaged because of the high-pitched sound of the voice and the fast-paced play-these extremes are necessary for children with autism. Following their interests and playing the way they want to play, helps with bonding. Autistic children generally do not play the same way as typical children, so this may mean you spend time spinning car wheels or lining up toys with them. Later this can be expanded to more typical play.
A circle of communication is a smile from you that is reciprocated from your child. Floortime will have you sweating and it is an invigorating and exhausting experience. You will feel thrilled to see your child’s face maybe light up for the first time, perhaps make eye-contact when they previously did not. You will also be very tired from the amount of energy it takes to conduct the therapy. All children have different interests and the type of play within a Floortime session will change. Being very animated and moving quickly in whatever activity you are using are the main principals of Floortime. But as any person who has used it will tell you, the results are worth it.
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Floortime can Benefit a Child with Autism.
Floortime helps to foster or increase the connection between parent and child.This connection is typically frayed and needs help to flourish. Communication and bonding doesn’t happen naturally for autistic children. Sensory issues make it difficult for children to be close or stay close. Floortime has shown notable progress in children who participate.
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About Stanley Greenspan
Greenspan was a founding member and past board president of Zero to Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Clinical Infant Developmental Program and Mental Health Study Center. He has written over 40 books and has received several awards from various psychiatric associations. His work on Floortime and autism has given hope to families with children on the autism spectrum. He passed away in 2010.
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National Institute in Mental Health(NIMH) Autism Spectrum Disorders - Pervasive Developmental Disorders - http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/autism/complete-index.shtml#pub4- Accessed January 8, 2011
The Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning disorders-Floortime Overview http://www.icdl.com/dirFloortime/overview/index.shtml - Accessed January 9, 2011