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Source: University of Michigan
Floor time, developed by Stanley Greenspan, promotes social interaction between an autistic individual and an adult. Adults are instructed to follow the child’s lead and build on what the child does to encourage further interaction. By following your child’s interests and motivations, you help him/her to learn how to attend to you, engage in a dialogue, take initiative, learn about causality, and how to solve problems. An adult may purposely make the wrong move so that the child has to tell them how to fix the problem and keep the interaction going.
For example, if a child wants to line up blocks, his/her parents will join the child with the intention of developing an affective interaction, rather than demand that the child join them in an activity of their desire as is the case in many educational approaches such as ABA.
Greenspan calls the back-and-forth communication between the child and the adult ‘circles of communication’. Through such circles, parents can enable their child to connect his/her emotions and intent to their behavior. There are five basic steps to facilitate floor time:
- Observe the child by listening and watching in order to determine how to approach the child
2. Approach – open circles of communication
- Once a child’s mood has been assessed, you should approach the child with appropriate words and gestures, elaborating and building on the child’s interests
3. Follow the child’s lead
- Be a supportive play partner who is an ‘assistant’ to the child in the activity of their desire. Allow the child to set the tone and direct the action. This allows the child to take initiative and be assertive. The interaction gives the child a sense of warmth, connectedness, and a feeling of being understood.
4. Extend and expand play
- Allow the child to express their own ideas and ask questions to stimulate creative thinking
5. Child closes circles of communications
- The child builds on your comments and gestures with their own comments and gestures. The child begins to recognize and appreciate the value of two-way communication
Rather than learning appropriate behaviors by rote memorization, floor time allows the child to link intentions and behaviors in purposeful ways that are meaningful to them. Since adults join in the child’s activity the child is motivated to engage and relate to you and the world meaningfully, spontaneously and warmly.
Research by S. Wieder and and Stanley Greenspan (the inventor of floor time) discusses the ways that floor time play sessions in which adults follow the child’s lead, allow the child to grow developmentally helping him/her to lean about shared attention, engaging in a dialogue, taking initiative, and how to solve problems among other things. The authors illustrated this system through and example of a child named Joey on the autism spectrum engaging in floor time with his father over a three year period. Joey underwent an intensive intervention which included, among other things, six daily floor time sessions. Joey continuously progressed throughout the course of his intervention. Wieder and Greenspan believe that every child with developmental challenges must engage in affective interactions. The authors also believe that floor time was essential to his progress and that although one case study cannot prove the benefits of an intervention, further research is likely to do so.
Example of a FLOOR TIME interaction:
(Wieder, S., Greenspan, S. I., Dec 2003)
“Joey and Dad are rolling on the floor engaged in gleeful rough house play as Joey bounces on his dad’s tummy, waiting to be lifted up once more onto his dad’s knees to ‘fly into the sky’. He waits breathlessly anticipating his flight and bumpy landing, his hands trembling, but to no avail. Their gazes meet with joint excitement and Dad asks, ‘Are you ready Joey? Ready for take-off sweetheart?’ his voice wooing Joey into the next step which Joey must initiate if his intent is to keep flying, both patient and reassuring. Joey finally takes his dad by one hand and then the other. Pulling both towards him, he blurts out, ‘Eh, eh!’ With that the engine revs up as Dad stretches the moments of their shared gaze and joint attention until Joey tugs once more, their pleasure mounting as the plane soars into the ‘bumpy skies’. Joey is now the captain, signaling his wish to go higher or faster as his dad waits for him to initiate the next move by gesture or vocalization until they reach their ‘destination’ designated by nearby photos of Nanny and Pop-Pop or Disney World towards which Joey first reaches and then points as his dad models pointing with an energetic, ‘Over there or over here?’