A Parent's Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Teaching Methods: DIR®/Floortime

The late Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a child psychiatrist, developed a form of play therapy that uses interactions and relationships to reach children with developmental delays and autism. This method is called the Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based model, or "DIR®/Floortime" for short. Floortime is based on the theory that autism is caused by problems with brain processing that affect a child's relationships and senses, among other things.

With Floor Time, the child's actions are assumed to be purposeful. It is the parent's or caregiver's role to follow the child's lead and help him develop social interaction and communication skills.

For example, a boy may frequently tap a toy car against the floor. During a Floortime session, his mother may imitate the tapping action, or put her car in the way of the child's car. This will prompt the child to interact with her. From there, the mother encourages the child to develop more complex play schemes and incorporate words and language into play. Floortime is more child-directed than some teaching methods. Its goal is to increase back-and-forth interaction and communication between child and adult.

Some school systems are incorporating this strategy into their programs, but usually do not make this their primary means of educating preschool-aged children with autism spectrum disorder. With its strong emphasis on social and emotional development, the Floor Time method may be a natural complement to a behavioral teaching program — such as Applied Behavior Analysis or Verbal Behavior — or to a TEAACH program.

Floortime is being used by some families who prefer a play-based therapy as a primary or secondary treatment, especially for toddlers and preschoolers. Floortime advocates say it can be used along with other therapies.

A few studies published since 2011 show gains in young children receiving Floortime interventions.

In a 2005 study, Dr. Greenspan and Serena Wieder Ph.D. reported on 16 teens who had responded favorably to DIR/Floortime therapy in their early childhoods. Ten to 15 years later, these boys had "healthy peer relationship and solid academic skills," according to the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders (ICDL), which Dr. Greenspan chaired. Dr. Greenspan died in 2010.

The National Autism Center's National Standards Project considers Floortime to be an "emerging treatment;" that means the research is promising but more is needed to determine its effectiveness.

The Floortime training series on DVD is currently unavailable, but there are other resources for learning more:

Floortime Strategies to Promote Development in Children and Teensnew floortime user manual This new "user's guide to the DIR® Model" includes a forward by Dr. Wieder and lots of practical information.

Engaging Autism: The Floortime ApproachAnother resource is Engaging Autism: Using the Floortime Approach to Help Children Relate, Communicate, and ThinkFloortime and DIR book. Dr. Greenspan and Dr. Wieder explain the Floortime method of playing with a young child in order to teach social interaction and communication skills. One of the book's strengths is its broad view of the autism spectrum.

In The Child With Special Needs: Encouraging Intellectual and Emotional GrowthThe Child with Special Needs, Dr. Greenspan, Dr. Wieder and Robin Simons take aim at children with various developmental disorders, including autism, PDD and delayed speech.

Great Kids: Helping Your Baby and Child Develop for a Healthy, Happy LifeGreat Kids: Helping Your Baby and Child Develop the Ten Essential Qualities for a Healthy, Happy Life.Great Kids Dr. Greenspan shows how to use Floortime principles to help a typical or special-needs child develop qualities such as empathy, curiosity and self-awareness.

Other Floortime resources