Reflections on Our First Year
My barely 4-year-old son has been in the Autism Outreach program since the fall. As the end of the school year approaches, I’m thinking about how things have gone for us.
Our program is based on DIR/Floortime, which encourages parents to reconnect with their children and then offer challenges to help them grow. It seems too simple to think just playing with your child will make a difference – but that is indeed an oversimplification. What makes the difference is playing and interacting with him in a way that entices him just beyond his comfort zone – and it should be done for significant portions of each day. Bringing your child into connection with people, and not letting him stay in his own little repetitious world is what seems to be the key.
On the other hand, it is easy to think you’re doing less than you are. I was lucky enough this weekend to encounter a mother of an 8-year-old on the spectrum who had also done Floortime. I told her I struggle with structuring my day. Her response was that Floortime is completely unstructured, and that’s what is hard to get used to.
I find that I need to do a couple of things – help my son regulate himself, and also be aware of the times when he’s most alert and interactive. Our child development counselor has helped a lot with the first objective. For the second, I find that fairly soon, my child started to let me know when he was ready to play. And when I sit down and put what I’ve learned into practice, he surprises me every time with what he can do. We were building block towers last week, and he turned his structure into a barn with a door. Quickly we grabbed some animals to go in and out!
On our best days it looks a bit like a dance…I watch what he does and join in for awhile, then I go clean something, then we come together again, and so on all day. He lets me know when he’s ready, and he lets me know when he needs a break. I do notice, though – if I don’t set the pattern in the morning, it’s hard to get him back in the afternoon. But the more we have short play sessions, the more he comes looking for them.
And we are seeing changes:
• Enjoying interaction with trusted adults
• Taking turns, for example, when building a block tower
• Coming when we call him, and following us
• Imitation (not always on command, but it’s coming), both verbal and physical
• Responding to his name
• Understanding – and obeying – short verbal requests
• The beginnings of pretend play
• Using words to communicate, with multiple word phrases
• Academic skills – increasing vocabulary, identifying pictures, matching, puzzles, letters and numbers, reading
We’ve still got a long way to go, and he’s definitely still behind his peers. But he’s learning these things in context. Playing and communicating is meaningful and (usually) enjoyable to him.
This approach is family-friendly. We can go to the duck park on a whim. The special moments of mutual enjoyment I missed when the kids were smaller are happening now.
It’s flexible. If my son is feeling energetic in the evening, we can do more therapy then, and take care of the laundry midday when he seems to need quiet time.
Relationships people outside our family are building with our kids will probably be longer-term ones – school, church, friends. I still need a lot of help, but the people who are helping us out have a continuing interest in us and in our children.
My husband and I are learning skills for helping our kids that will last a lifetime, and that are relatively easy to teach to our friends and the children’s caregivers.
Some wonderful moments:
• “Come on, let’s go!” …wanting to play.
• Imitating me driving his boats in the bathroom sink, mopping the floor, driving the car
• “Hide,” he invites – and then comes to find me, laughing.
• Talking about emotions: “I’m sad,” “I’m sick” – finally he can tell me!
• A big grin when he sees a child he knows from nursery school
• Laughing with his sister and looking at her face while “swimming” in the backyard pool
Floortime isn’t easy – I find it takes a lot of concentration, creative thinking and self-discipline. I’m looking forward to getting better at it. But it’s right for our family. We’re looking forward to seeing lots more of those moments of growth!
So how about you? If you’re a Floortime parent, I’d love to know your thoughts on how the program has worked for your family! Please feel free to share your comments below.