DIR Level 2 at a Glance: Engagement and Relatedness
When we meet children on the autism spectrum, we often observe that we may have difficulty keeping their attention. It might be hard for them to stay focused on an activity. Some parents describe their children as “flitting” from object to object – they don’t stick with many ideas or activities. On the other hand, sometimes their attention is easily diverted to things we find unimportant or seemingly purposeless. It’s hard to connect with a child who is doing this.
In this stage, a child builds meaningful and enjoyable connections with other people (starting with one or two primary relationships), begins to observe and imitate others (also referred to as joint attention), and broadens their range of emotions (anger, curiosity, excitement).
This stage takes a lot of practice. Some things you try will work, many won’t. But according to Stanley Greenspan, the worst thing you can do is quit. You can’t keep going with this every minute of every day, but keep coming back to your child, with an awareness of the moments of when they are most ready to engage with you.
- Get into her observational range; make sure it’s easy for him or her to see what you are doing.
- Be animated! Children are drawn to excitement, warmth, humor, and joy. Exaggerated facial expressions help too.
- Imitate what he or she is doing
- WAIT for the child’s response. It may be as subtle as a glance or a smile.
- Observe her and follow her lead
- Enjoy a joke; do something unexpected
- Do physical activities – roughhouse, bounce, spin, run, throw, hide, fall onto pillows… you are the best toy!
- Connect to interests; provide activities, outings, toys, books or pictures that extend interests
- Demonstrate familiar or new ways to interact and invite your child to join in
- Don’t give up! Be persistent.
When You’re Succeeding, You Will See…
- your child responds to simple overtures and shows curiosity and interest
- your child will happily or willingly stay engaged with peers and adults for a period of time
To learn more:
Affect Autism is an excellent (Canadian!) website that offers examples and strategies for engaging with your child. The Greenspan Floortime Approach website offers online courses for parents and a free guide to assessing your child’s development and learning style.
There is a video series illustrating the stages of development as described in DIR, available for parents to borrow at the SSCY Lending library at the Rehabilitation Centre for Children.
More Than Words by Fern Sussman is a great guide to connecting with your child with lots of examples. Building Healthy Minds by Dr. Stanley Greenspan has clear explanations of the developmental stages and ideas for how to encourage growth at each stage.