I remember the days when I wasn’t sure about this therapy called, “Floortime.” I came from a strong behavioral approach (ABA-incidental teaching) to therapy with children on the autism spectrum, which of course “pooh-poohed” anything that was not behaviorally driven. I recall talking over my concerns with my new supervisor, who heard and accepted them very openly. I’m sure she had heard similar doubts before, but she knew something I did not. She knew that the outcomes I would see using the Floortime approach would soon win me over and make me a believer for life. She is a smart lady and a savvy supervisor. She wisely started me on my Floortime path by having me co-lead a group. Groups are great because progress can be made quickly and its easy to see when you compare kids to others in the group. It wasn’t long before my weekly Floortime group was my favorite thing I did each week. I started looking forward to that hour and half of pure fun to get me through blah Mondays.
What I quickly noticed about Floortime compared to my ABA strategies, was that during Floortime play I have many moments of really connecting to a child. Its different then the feeling that happens when a child follows a direction and I reward them with a treat. In these moments I know the child is actually responding to me and my emotions or actions. When those moments of connection happen, I can feel the child really tuning into the world. I do something, he responds with a smile, makes a gesture to continue, and suddenly we are in a playful back-and-forth dance.
Floortime brings lots of “Aha” moments where it’s like a lightbulb goes off and the child recognizes the curiosity of the world or the fun of playing with others. I had a case with a 3-year-old child who had severe autism. She never made eye contact and spent most of her time walking around without purpose. She never played with toys and pretty much ignored her mother. Within weeks of starting Floortime, this girl not only responded to her mom’s efforts to play with her, but she sought her mom out to play catch!! Her pleasure in the simple act of rolling a ball back and forth was obvious in her expression. It was a truly amazing sight to see that child and her parent make an emotional connection, a true relationship. Naturally, her mom was thrilled at her progress and tearfully told me that she felt guilty that she had not tried harder or done more to connect with her child before. My response was the truth. “You didn’t know how to reach her and how could you have known that she could be reached? You are an amazing parent simply because you didn’t give up. You found the help you needed to help your daughter.”
This new Floortime research study done in Canada proves what I had to learn myself through experience. Floortime not only works, it might be the best way to fundamentally change the path of a child’s life. It changes children by helping them connect, relate, communicate, and become an active player in their own life.
Floortime is an approach that is fun for everyone and through play teaches kids about feelings, ideas, imagination, and love.