What is DIR:Floortime?

DIR:Floortime is all about CONNECTING and ENGAGING .

It is an An Intervention Approach for Children with Relating, Communication and Learning Challenges

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The Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-based approach is an interdisciplinary model developed by the late Dr Stanley Greenspan (clinical psychiatrist) and Dr Serena Wieder (clinical psychologist).
 

What is DIR?

DIR has its roots in Infant Mental Health, with the philosophy that learning occurs within an attuned relationship where emotional connection and expression are key to cognitive and emotional development. Therefore, the role of parents and caregivers is crucial. The child and family are central to the intervention process, with the therapist as facilitator or coach.

While DIR is the theory, Floortime is the practical application. It is just that - getting down to the child’s level, on the floor and playing. It requires being attuned to the child’s individual differences, to meet them at their developmental level and interact with the appropriate affect (emotional expression) conveyed by facial expressions, gestures, emotional tone, rhythm, sounds and words. On one hand we follow the child’s interests and on the other, we present the just right challenge to support the child expand their existing capacities and move up the social emotional developmental ladder. 

In practice, this is how it looks:

James runs into my therapy room, unaware of his mother or myself. He scans the room and collects all the balls he can see. His mother’s efforts to call him, redirect or contain his compulsive need to throw the balls against the wall, are futile.  

 

He chooses his preferred toy in an attempt to feel just a fraction more organized and in control in this new and perhaps overwhelming environment. I encourage mom to join James’s play, catching a ball as it bounces off the wall and handing it back to him. I demonstrate the power of communicating through gestures, facial expressions, interesting sounds and simple words, rather than complex verbal language. Mom follows his natural interest and finds a playful rhythm, which provides a sense of safety for James. He feels affirmed as his interests are respected and he relaxes and allows mom into his space.  I guide mom towards a basket, which she uses to catch the balls, expressing her delight with playful actions and sounds. A smile emerges, James and mom are sharing a moment. Mom sees the gleam in her son’s eyes - Finding this shared connection is at the heart of DIR.

 

Previous to learning DIR, mom’s interactions with James lead to frustration and a deep sadness. When she attempted to teach her son specific skills, direct his play, and assert her ideas and expectations on him, this served to drive a wedge between them.  

 

With patience and perseverance, months later, James and his mother no longer throw balls against the wall. He glances back at mom if she lingers to talk to me – playing with her is more pleasurable than playing on his own. He takes initiative and chooses a new game, mom joins in his play with pleasure. She has learned the valuable skill of being a play partner rather than a teacher.  With this foundation of shared attention and connection, we work at lengthening back and forth interactions and wait patiently for ways to expand his play ideas.   I am looking forward to moving up the developmental ladder with James and his mother, exploring feelings and ideas and emerging into symbolic and abstract thinking which will prepare him for academic learning.

Entering the child’s world, following his interests, wooing him into a shared experience and keeping the back and forth interactions going, are the foundations upon which we can expand the child’s abilities to problem solve, create and learn. This is the essence of the DIR approach.

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The central spine of DIR describes the child’s capacities at each developmental milestone of social, emotional and cognitive development. By joining the child’s world and drawing them into a shared world, with warmth and pleasure ……

The 'D' In DIR

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'I' In DIR

DIR considers a child’s underlying individual differences. As an individualized intervention, it considers the underlying sensory processing, motor planning, communication, language and visual spatial challenges that impact the child’s ability to process and respond within the demands of his/her world.  

'R' In DIR

DIR is a Relationship-based approach with the emotionally based interaction as the framework that supports the child to move up the developmental levels.  

Relational safety is key and being together in a playful way engages a child, and the magic of emotional expression gives meaning to experiences.

 

The caregiver adapts her interactions (the “R”) to support the child's individual differences (the “I”) in order to move him/her the developmental levels (the “D”).

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The D, I and R are interconnected and work together to make this a comprehensive and holistic intervention model.