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What is DIR/Floortime?

Therapist and Child Working on the Floor
Each child is unique and develops at their own pace. When a child with Autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, or Speech and Language Delays is receiving therapy, specialized techniques can ensure the child makes the most improvements.

One effective method is the DIR/Floortime approach. This intervention uses a holistic approach and has been proven to progress a child’s skills across areas of communication, emotional functioning, daily living skills, and parent-child interactions.

DIR stands for Developmental, Individual-differences, Relationship-based, and is sometimes referred to as DIR/Floortime, or simply Floortime. The approach was initially developed by the psychiatrist Dr. Stanley Greenspan in the 1980s. It combines principles of human development with findings about sensory and motor development.

Let’s explore what the DIR/Floortime approach entails, what professionals might use it, and the possible benefits to children receiving therapy services.

Understanding DIR/Floortime

DIR/Floortime is an approach that may be used by several different professionals providing services for a child. This includes child psychologists, special education teachers, Speech Therapists, and Occupational Therapists. It can be used as an alternative or in addition to ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis).
The approach recognizes individual differences and emphasizes the importance of relationships in a child’s development. The 3 core components are represented by the acronym DIR:
  1. Developmental: This component acknowledges the developmental stages that children go through, considering their individual progress within these stages.
  2. Individual Differences: This aspect recognizes and respects each child’s unique qualities, strengths, and challenges. DIR aims to customize a child’s intervention plan based on their individual needs, rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach.
  3. Relationship-Based: According to DIR/Floortime, relationships fuel our development. The approach follows the belief that positive relationships with the child’s caregivers and others play a critical role in the child’s development. It’s believed that building strong emotional connections is essential for forming a foundation for growth.
Floortime is another component of the DIR approach. This includes engaging with the child on their level, typically by getting down on the floor to play and interact with them.

The DIR/Floortime model is considered child-led. Therapists, parents, and caregivers follow the child’s lead, which can help promote a sense of empowerment and encourage the child to actively participate in therapy.

Core Principles

The DIR/Floortime approach can be used in therapy with a child as early as possible. In fact, research shows that the model can actually be vital to improving social and emotional development among children if started early.
Some of the core principles include:
  1. Follow the Child’s Lead. Therapists and caregivers engage in activities that capture the child’s interests. This can create a supportive, positive environment for interaction.
  2. Challenge at the Right Level. Children are challenged within the “Zone of Proximal Development”, a place where a skill is too difficult for the child to complete independently, but can be successfully completed with the support and guidance from another individual.
  3. Use Scaffolding to Support the Child. Scaffolding is a technique used to teach new developmental skills. It involves supporting a child by providing just enough assistance to allow him or her to be successful at completing a task. Working with a child within the Zone of Proximal Development and using scaffolding can ensure activities are enjoyable and conducive to growth.
  4. Incorporate Emotional Interactions. Therapists and parents engage in emotionally meaningful interactions with the child. This can foster a sense of trust and security with these individuals.
  5. Expand Circles of Communication. The therapist and parents encourage a child to use gestures, words or other means of communication to enhance their ability to connect with others.
  6. Develop Symbolic Thinking. Symbolic thinking is seen as a significant part of a child’s cognitive development. Caregivers and therapists work to help a child develop their capacity for imagination and abstract thinking through play.

Who Can Benefit from DIR/Floortime

The DIR/Floortime method is widely used by therapists (such as Speech Therapists and Occupational Therapists), educators in schools, and can be used in the home by parents. This can support children with a variety of developmental challenges due to diagnoses such as:
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): DIR/Floortime is known for its use with Autistic children. Research has shown that Autistic children can make substantial progress in different levels of functioning through the use of Floortime.
  • Sensory Processing Disorders: Sensory-rich experiences provided through therapy, such as Occupational Therapy, using DIR/Floortime principles can help children develop a better understanding and regulation of sensory input.
  • Speech and Language Delays: Services such as Speech Therapy that follows the DIR/Floortime method focuses on expanding circles of communication to support children with speech and language delays. Therapists and parents can facilitate growth in a child’s expressive and receptive language skills through meaningful interactions and play.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Challenges with attention and hyperactivity can be addressed through the use of engagement and individualized support within the DIR/Floortime model.

How Does DIR/Floortime Compare to ABA?

DIR/Floortime and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are two distinct approaches that are frequently used to support children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other developmental challenges.

Both approaches aim to promote positive development of skills, the philosophies, methods, and goals of the approaches differ.

Floortime vs ABA Chart

Which approach is more effective? Both the DIR/Floortime method and ABA have been shown by research to effectively improve developmental skills in children with diagnoses such as Autism.

When choosing what approach to use with their child, parents should consider the individual needs and learning style of their child, their own preferences in teaching methods, and the expertise of the professionals working with the child.

It is also possible for a child to receive both DIR/Floortime and ABA, and this integrated approach can be beneficial. The principles of the two approaches can complement one another, and intervention plans can be well-coordinated to meet the unique needs of the child.
A multidisciplinary, team approach is essential when one or both of these approaches are being used with a child. Parents, caregivers, and professionals working with a child should communicate and collaborate on a regular basis to provide a coordinated, cohesive treatment plan.

Additional Resources

The DIR/Floortime approach is a child-centered, play-based approach that can effectively improve a child’s communication skills, emotional functioning, and sensory processing abilities. It can also strengthen parent-child interactions, and may be incorporated by various therapists working with the child.

TherapyWorks offers speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, in which therapists incorporate principles of DIR/Floortime. TherapyWorks also offers ABA, another effective approach to improving a child’s developmental skills. If you would like to learn more or discuss your child’s specific needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to TherapyWorks!

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