What is DIR® Floortime™?
DIR® is the Developmental, Individual-differences, & Relationship-based model that has become the foundation for understanding child development and providing support and intervention that helps children reach their fullest potential.
The DIR® model is also a framework that helps teachers conduct comprehensive assessments and develop educational and/or intervention programs tailored to the unique challenges and strengths of each child.
DIR® Floortime™ is the application of the DIR® model into practice.
While the DIR® model helps us understand and promote the positive development of all children, DIR® and DIR® Floortime™ are most commonly utilized with children with educational, social-emotional, mental health, and/or developmental challenges. DIR® Floortime™ has become most widely known as an approach to support children with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC). You can read more about DIR® and ASC in many books including "Engaging Autism" and "The Child with Special Needs" by Drs Greenspan and Wieder.
The objectives of the DIR® Model are to build healthy foundations for social, emotional, and intellectual capacities rather than focusing on skills and isolated behaviours.
The D (Developmental) part of the Model describes the building blocks of this foundation. Understanding where the child is developmentally is critical to planning a programme. The Six Developmental Levels describes the developmental milestones that every child must master for healthy emotional and intellectual growth. This includes helping children to develop capacities to attend and remain calm and regulated, engage and relate to others, initiate and respond to all types of communication beginning with emotional and social affect based gestures, engage in shared social problem-solving and intentional behaviour involving a continuous flow of interactions in a row, use ideas to communicate needs and think and play creatively, and build bridges between ideas in logical ways which lead to higher level capacities to think in multiclausal, grey area and reflective ways. These developmental capacities are essential for spontaneous and empathic relationships as well as the mastery of academic skills.
The I (Individual differences) part of the Model describes the unique biologically based ways each child takes in, regulates, responds to, and comprehends sensations such as sound, touch, and the planning and sequencing of actions and ideas. Some children, for example, are very hyper responsive to touch and sound, while others are under-reactive, and still others seek out these sensations. The term "Biological Challenges" describes the various processing issues that make up a child's individual differences and that may be interfering with their ability to grow and learn.
The R (Relationship-based) part of the Model describes the learning relationships with teachers, teaching assistants and peers who tailor their affect based interactions to the child’s individual differences and developmental capacities to enable progress in mastering the essential foundations.
Floortime® (or DIR® Floortime™) is a specific technique to both follow the child’s natural emotional interests (lead) and at the same time challenge the child towards greater and greater mastery of the social, emotional, and intellectual capacities. With young children these playful interactions may occur on the floor, but go on to include conversations and interactions in other places.
DIR Floortime® emphasizes the critical role of parents and other family members because of the importance of their emotional relationships with the child.
The DIR® Model, however, is a comprehensive framework which enables teachers to construct a programme tailored to the child’s unique challenges and strengths. Central to the DIR® Model is the role of the child’s natural emotions and interests which has been shown to be essential for learning interactions that enable the different parts of the mind and brain to work together and build successively higher levels of social, emotional, and intellectual capacities. It often includes, in addition to Floortime™, various problem-solving exercises and typically involves a team approach with speech therapy, occupational therapy, educational programs, mental health (developmental-psychological) intervention and, where appropriate, augmentative and biomedical intervention.
The Six Developmental Levels describes the developmental milestones that every child must master for healthy emotional and intellectual growth.
Level 1: Self-Regulation and Interest in the World – Goal: Becoming calm, attentive, and interested in the world.
Entering a pupil's world involves more than simply intuiting what gives your pupil pleasure; it's a systematic process. You must first learn how your pupil's nervous system works, by understanding their unique style of hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, and moving. To help your pupil feel comfortable in the world you must first carefully observe which sensations help your pupil become calm and regulated, which ones overwhelm them, and which don't pull them in enough.
Level 2: Intimacy, Engagement, and Falling in Love – Goal: Following your pupil's lead, regardless of where his or her interest lies
Why? Because your pupil's interests are the window to their emotional and intellectual life! Through observing your pupil's interests and natural desires, you will understand of what they find enjoyable, what motivates them. Your pupil has real feelings, real desires, and real wishes. Your pupil will feel closer to you if they can see that you can respect and participate in what interests them. But what if my pupil's interests are unusual or peculiar or are not things we want to encourage? This should not be a concern at this point, because the only way you can engage your pupil at the beginning is by joining their interests, regardless of how unusual they are. Assume that whatever your pupil is doing is bringing them some pleasure, and then see if you can deepen and widen that pleasure and make it part of a human relationship. Following your pupil's lead does not limit you to doing only what your pupil does! After joining them on their interests, after doing the same thing next to them, and entering into their world, you can entice them into an interaction. The key to expanding your pupil's ability to be secure, calm, and regulated in the shared world is to meet them first at the level of their ability, and then gradually expand out from that base of security. Anytime your pupil becomes withdrawn or overexcited and irritable, you need to go back to the baseline and expand more slowly, and have FUN together!
Level 2: Intimacy, Engagement, and Falling in Love – Goal: Falling in love with each other
Throughout this stage your child becomes more and more focused on you and other persons and things outside themselves. Your delightful task during this stage will be to promote pleasurable feelings between you and your pupil. Emotional engagement and attachment is important because as your pupil relates to you and expresses loving feelings, various motor, sensory, language, and cognitive achievements are also often taking place. The milestone of falling in love usually gives purpose to these skills. There’s nothing more interesting in their world other than you, and their love for you will continue to spur them on as they learn to reach, grasp, and eventually come toward you, the object of their affection.
Level 3: Two-Way Communication – Goal: To help your pupil take the initiative with communication
Your pupil's interest and purpose is the first step in meaningful communication. Your pupil will OPEN the circle of communication by their own purpose or intention, by doing what they want to do. You can then build on this intention by helping your pupil achieve their goal. Your pupil will CLOSE the circle of communication when they take advantage of what you offered and gestures back to you. Getting to a continuous back-and-forth communication is the goal of this stage.
Level 3: Two-Way Communication – Goal: Becoming a two-way communicator
How you know your pupil is communicating: Your pupil may open up gestural dialogues with you by doing the following:
- Reaching out to you to be picked up, or hugging you back when you hug them
- Smiling, vocalizing, putting a finger in your mouth, taking a rattle from their mouth and putting it in your own, or touching or exploring your hair
- Pushing undesired food off a high-chair tray with an accompanying angry look, screaming when a desired toy isn’t fetched quickly enough, or wiggling out of your arms when they have no interest in getting dressed (Their angry face, shouts, and squirmy body clearly communicates their sense of protest or anger).
- Looking for the toy that fell to the ground or (toward the end of this stage) looking in your hand for a hidden, desired rattle.
- Showing caution or fear by turning away, clinging to your leg, or looking scared when a stranger approaches too quickly.
- Follow your pupil’s lead and challenge them to exchange gestures and emotional signals with you about his interests.
Level 4: Complex Communication - Learning How to Solve Problems – Goal: Using a series of interactive emotional signals or gestures to communicate
Challenge your pupil to interact with you to solve problems - not only those that they want to figure out on their own, but also those that you present to them. Exchange many gestures as the two of you problem-solve, including sounds or words and actions such as puling each other in various directions.
Level 5: Emotional Ideas – Goal – Using symbols or ideas to convey intentions or feelings.
Now is the time to help your pupil tell you what he wants or thinks, and to become a partner in their emerging make-believe play. You can pretend to be a puppy, or talk for a puppy puppet, and ask your pupil for a hug or a kiss or a dog bone, for example. You can also open up conversations with them about their desires and wishes, and ask, “What do you want to drink, milk or juice?” Their reply of “juice” could be met by your eager head nod and response of, “Let’s go and get it! Show me where to go.” As they answer, “There, _____,” while pointing toward the refrigerator, they’ll know that the can get their needs met by interacting with you.
Level 6: Emotional and Logical Thinking - Goal: Building bridges between ideas.
Challenge your pupil to connect their ideas together by seeking their opinion, enjoying their debates, and enlarging their pretend dramas.
Learning to Think
Help your pupil learn to think by holding long conversations with them in which you seek their opinions rather than simply trade pieces of information. For instances, when they express a desire to “Go out now!” you can ask them what they want to do once they are outside. When they reply, “Play on the slide!” they’ll be linking their wishes with your thoughts and ideas. Try and pose open-ended questions to get their thinking, such as “Why do you like this colour so much?” rather than “Which is your favourite colour?” Enjoy debates about everything from playtime to ice cream flavours! Also, as you continue to be a pretend partner, try and come up with new plot twists. You might explore the dolls’ feelings or let them be a parent while you are the child.
For older children, Dr. Greenspan added three additional levels
Level 7: Multi-causal and Triangular Thinking – In this stage, pupils move beyond simple causes for reasoning and move to multi-causal thinking. (Maybe Alex doesn’t want to play with me because he doesn’t like me, or because he’s already playing with Breanna, or because he’s afraid I’ll break his tower.) Triangular thinking is being able to compare and contrast two things. Also, if one friend can’t play, they can ask another to play. To learn mufti-causal and triangular thinking, pupils must be able to invest emotional into more than one possibility. At this stage, pupils can understand family dynamics in terms of relationships among different people, rather than just in terms of whether they get their own needs met.
Level 8: Gray-area, Emotionally-Differentiated Thinking – This kind of thinking enables pupils to begin understanding varying degrees or relative influence of things. This is important for school, as there, pupils often must weigh factors and relative influences. This also helpful with peers, as this kind of thinking offers new ways to solve problems and children can now compromise.
Level 9: A Growing Sense of Self and Reflection on an Internal Standard - By puberty and early adolescence, more complex emotional interactions help pupils progress to thinking in relationship to an internal standard and a growing sense of self. Pupils can now judge experience and they can say things like “Boy, I was really mad – more than usual.” Or, they can look at a peer’s behaviour and say, “That is OK for them, but not OK for me.” Pupils can now make inferences and can think in more than one frame of reference at a time. They can create new ideas from existing ones, they can consider both the past and the future. This allows for a higher level of intelligence and more mature thinking.
After the ninth level is reached, people continue to develop throughout life. There are as many as seven more stages. Human development doesn’t stop, even for those with Autism Spectrum Conditions
Helping your Child to Climb the Developmental Ladder
Building Bridges between Ideas, Story-telling (FEDL6)
using emotional/logical thinking, talks also about past and future
Shared Meanings and Symbolic Play (FEDL5)
using connected patterns to communicate in continuous flow, first words
Complex Shared Problem-Solving (FEDL4)
using gestural non-verbal language, copying
Initiating two-way Communication (FEDL3)
using gestural non-verbal language, copying
Engaging Socially, Interested in and Relating (FEDL2)
warmly with other people
Focusing, Shared Attention and Self-Regulation (FEDL1)
in order to be interested in the world