Friday, August 17, 2012
Floortime and Being The Most Interesting Thing
I think that one very common misconception about kids on the autism spectrum is that they don't form close bonds with primary caregivers. That is absolutely untrue. In fact, one of the things that I particularly like about the new DSM-5 criteria for autism is that it recognizes that children on the spectrum can (and do!) form close bonds with primary caregivers.
Here's the thing, though - our kids don't interact with us the way that NT children do. Once you drop that expectation of interacting with your child on your terms and open your heart and mind to the concept of "Whatever it takes!", then you can start to see the relationship blossom.
One big premise of Floortime is that you - and by you, I mean parents and caregivers - are your child's first and most important playmate. Your child needs to be able to form a connection with you before relationships can form with peers. Think about a NT child. A baby or young toddler wants Mommy's attention. This happens long before other children are appealing as playmates. So, before you expect your child to form friendships and enter the world of peer-to-peer social interaction, he or she needs to have a strong relationship with you.
This is where we are right now, and we're making some good progress. Sure, Jack would much rather play with magnetic letters or his iPad, but I simply insert myself into his play. I lost the expectation that we would be doing elaborate imaginary play long ago. I consider myself lucky if I can get him to follow a model for simple pretend play - like rolling a car back and forth on a table or hugging a doll with prompting - but I don't push it, either. I introduce it if he seems receptive.
For those of you familiar with Greenspan's Developmental Stages, this places us at stage 2 - Intimacy, Engagement, & Falling in Love (for more about it - read --> here <--).
So, if Jack's leading the way with our Floortime interactions, what am I doing to try to foster engagement? Am I just being lead along like a blind puppet in all of the stimmy fun?
Of course not.
Instead, I take his lead, but I try to insert myself into his play in a way that both engages his interest and leads him to interact back, whether it be with a word or two or even just a smile. First, I get into all of Jack's most favored obsessions, and if I don't really "get into it", then I fake it. And I've gotten to where I can fake it really well. Jack's favorite things are Super Why! and magnetic letters, so guess what? My favorite things are not Super Why! and magnetic letters! Is it what I imagined my interactions with my son to resemble? Absolutely not. Am I willing to do anything - to love anything - to connect with my boy? You betcha. Again, it's about dropping preconceived notions about what is and is not play and what is and is not "appropriate" for your child's age.
Second, I make everything very over the top. I bump up the emotions - called your "affect" in the language of DIR/Floortime - whenever I talk to or interact with Jack. For children on the spectrum, it can be difficult for them to interpret and understand the various emotions that others express. In addition, many kids on the spectrum - mine included - struggle with being able to attend to an adult and pay attention to what they are doing. To help them with this, bump up your affect. Is something funny? Fall over laughing - literally! Are you sad that they aren't playing with you? Pretend to cry. Did your little one do something to make you happy? Smile like you've never smiled before! Smile like you are trying to cram a 1/2-lb. cheeseburger in your mouth.
You have to get up in your kid's face. You need to insert yourself in the stims and scripts. You need to make yourself the most over-the-top thing your kid will see in a world full of distractions. You need to be the most interesting thing in the room.
Third, stop caring what other people think of you. Anywhere and everywhere is a good place for a Floortime interaction. Be over-the-top and silly, even in public! I am an awful singer, but I sing all the time when Jack is with me. I sing on the way to the car - "We walk and walk and walk..." - and everywhere else in between. Jack hates it when I sing, but you know what? He has to do something to get me to stop. He has to say "No!" or I prompt him to say "No singing". That's an interaction.
I've also had to drop to the ground where we are - frequently - to rock or console Jack. He needs to wear headphones in many stores, but it's what he needs. Sure, we look silly - I look silly - with some of my interactions with him, but that's what I have to do. I'd much rather have my child like me than have the admiration of a stranger at the grocery store.
Fourth, I have redefined my preconceived notions of the meaning of the word "interaction". What is an interaction? Well, you might define it as a back-and-forth exchange in which both parties are taking something away from it, like a conversation.
My definition of "interaction" is a bit more loose. I consider a successful interaction - called a "circle of communication" in Floortime jargon - to be me doing something and Jack reacting. So, our interactions don't always look like yours might. Here's an example - Jack scripts from Super Why!...a lot. As in, all the time. I get to where I memorize entire episodes of Super Why! just from hearing them so often. So, what do you do with a kid that scripts? Or stims? Copy them, of course! I repeat the scripts as he goes through them or, if he's flapping his hands, I flap along with him. Usually, both illicit some kind of reaction.
And that's what I want - a reaction. It's about the engagement, the connection, and being a part of the same world, and not necessarily about anything else in that exact moment. There are times in the day to focus on language, motor skills, cognitive skills, etc., but in that moment my only concern is the interaction. Appropriate or inappropriate as that reaction might be, I'm going for engagement.
Once the engagement is natural, frequent, and your child is seeking you out for attention, you can add to it, but teaching children with disorders of relating, communicating, and thinking that the interaction is the reward is the most important lesson. You want your child to want to be with you in a shared world of interaction.
As you may have guessed, I'm a big - BIG - proponent of DIR/Floortime. I love it, I breathe it, and it is truly a lifestyle in our home. For more information about DIR/Floortime, I highly recommend Engaging Autism by Stanley Greenspan or go to the DIR/Floortime website by clicking --> here <--.
And don't think that Floortime is only good for kids with special needs! Every child can benefit from Floortime, or from joining in with a friend or sibling's Floortime play! NT kids are the BEST Floortime players!