Floor Time

Developed by child psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan, Floor Time is a treatment method and a philosophy for interacting with autistic children. It is based on the premise that the child can increase and build a larger circle of interaction with an adult who meets the child at his current developmental level and who builds on the child's particular strengths.

The goal in Floor Time is to move the child through the six basic developmental milestones that must be mastered for emotional and intellectual growth. Greenspan describes the six rungs on the developmental ladder as: self regulation and interest in the world; intimacy or a special love for the world of human relations; two-way communication; complex communication; emotional ideas; and emotional thinking. The autistic child is challenged in moving naturally through these milestones as a result of sensory over- or under-reactions, processing difficulties, and/or poor control of physical responses.

In Floor Time, the parent engages the child at a level the child currently enjoys, enters the child's activities, and follows the child's lead. From a mutually shared engagement, the parent is instructed how to move the child toward more increasingly complex interactions, a process known as “opening and closing circles of communication.” Floor Time does not separate and focus on speech, motor, or cognitive skills but rather addresses these areas through a synthesized emphasis on emotional development. The intervention is called Floor Time because the parent gets down on the floor with the child to engage him at his level.

The child’s actions set the lead for actions that the adult can extend or elaborate. For example, if the child wants to line up cars in a row, the parent or service provider may playfully intrude in this activity (e.g., moving one of the cars or blocking a car and asking where it’s going). Floor Time is usually provided by parents under the direction of psychologists.

Floor Time is regarded as a treatment that could plausibly be effective, but no real research has been done into its effectiveness. Under my theory, Floor Time should be effective. It is focused on working within the child’s capacities to develop the ability and desire to communicate over time. I particularly like the fact that the parent is breaking down the natural hierarchies by physically getting into the space of the child – this should start off the interaction with a greater chance of success. Theoretically, improved communications, resulting in an improved ability satisfy desires and needs, should result in better cognitive appraisal, greater happiness, and a reduction in stress response activity. The other advantage of floor time would seem to be a reduction in cost, due to the fact that the parent is administering most of the treatment.


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