DIR Stage 5 At a Glance: Words, Ideas and Imagination

This post is part of a series, taking a quick look at each of the developmental capacities as described by Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder in their DIR/Floortime framework.  As a child grows, they add new skills to what they learned in the previous stages.  You can find the list of related posts here.


After children have become comfortable with interactive communication and have begun to collaborate as described in stages 1-4, they take an exciting step forward – using words to communicate!  Finally, our child begins to use words to share feelings and intentions, and also ideas.

Some of the thinking and communicating that emerges with level 5:

  • Speech develops – but not full sentences yet.  They may be using full sentences that they have memorized, but now children will begin grouping a few words together in new ways.Emotional connections to memory – talking about how they felt during memorable events
  • They can answer questions – what, who, actions, yes and no…open ended what, why, and when questions will come later.
  • Up until now, play has been more about imitation.  Now the imagination kicks in and the things they do have a meaning beyond their actions; they are truly pretending.  They can play on a single theme with an adult – swordplay, cooking, doctor…  The child can include you in their imaginative play, and they can explore emotional themes like closeness, assertiveness, fear, and anger.
  • They can now follow 1 or 2 step commands.
  • Children can begin to greet familiar people.
  • Compliance is easier – doing things because everyone else is doing it, or because they have been asked to do it.
  • You may find your child thinks about things when they aren’t there, and begins to refer more to past and future.

What adults can now do to support growth:

Stages of development flow together; the boundaries are fuzzy and children can move back and forth depending on the day and how they are feeling.  Continue to use ideas and activities from the earlier capacities to support self-regulation, coordination, and see if you can move into true collaboration, where both partners in an activity contribute ideas and use the ideas of others.

•Join in imaginative play. Play out real life with toy props – cooking, home repair, caring for baby, tea party, getting lost, and found again, and any theme that is of interest to your child is a good idea.   Explore single themes, and connect feelings to the actions of toy characters.  Take on a character’s role to interact with child, and build on the child’s ideas to keep the play and conversation going!

Give the child words to go along with their actions and feelings.  For example, “I’m really happy I get cake,” or “you want that toy” when a child is pointing.

Talk to your child about both his and your ideas, feelings, interests, desires, and objections through the day.  He is ready now to absorb more of what is said around him.


For more detailed information and examples of doing DIR/Floortime with your child, visit Affect Autism
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