Thinking About Frames

This might be really obvious to some people, but for me it was a light bulb moment.  The trouble I had transitioning from ABA to developmental therapies was about trying to keep track of our goals and how we were working on them.

So our RDI consultant wanted me to think about frames, with respect to parenting and teaching my child.

Let’s think about what frames do.

  • Frames are placeholders on a wall.  You can change the work of art within a frame, but a frame creates a space where your eye expects to see an image.
  • Frames limit your view.  Sketchbook artists will use cardboard frames as a guide to choosing an image they want to draw.
  • A good frame will fit what goes inside it.  A good frame makes a work of art look its best.

What does that have to do with parenting?

Frames as Routines

Developmental therapies encourage spontaneity.  That’s a wonderful idea.  The problem sometimes is knowing how to make sure you are spending good amounts of time working with your child’s goals.  Days have a way of getting away from us, and then we wonder what we have accomplished.

Sometimes people choose to address this problem with detailed goals and checklists.  Times of formal instruction and practice are one way to make sure your child is learning what you hope he will learn.  But if you think it’s important to work on social skills and communication in context and in natural ways, then that style isn’t a good fit.

But what if you thought about the opportunities that arise through the routines in each day?  You can even create routines that give you opportunities to interact with your child and stretch his or her thinking.

As an added bonus, we know that children, and especially children with autism, like to know what to expect and thrive on routines.   Static thinking – doing things in the same way every time – is a strength for our kids.  As we interact with them we want to stretch them into dynamic thinking, where they can problem solve, create, and respond to the ideas of others, and we can do that within a predictable routine that is part of a regular day.  It’s easier to get them to participate when there are predictable parts of an activity.

A frame, then, would include a boundary around a space and a time.  Within that space and time, you have a particular activity, and broad goals that you want to achieve in that time.

Some frames might be:

Conversation in the car, to and from school.  Possible goals: responding to a conversation partner and expanding on a topic.

Story at bedtime.  Possible goals: enjoying a book with a partner, understanding cause and effect, recognizing perspective.

Sunday afternoon trip to the park.   Possible goals: building physical skills, playful interaction with a sibling, perspective taking and compromise (we don’t all want to do the same thing).

Homework after supper.  Possible goals: making plans for oneself, perseverance, problem solving, communicating what you know.

Bathtime play.  Possible goals: joint attention, playful interaction.

Family Games Night.  Possible goals: conversation, turn-taking, enjoyment with a partner, managing disappointment.

Saturday morning pancakes. Possible goals: imitation, collaboration, reading comprehension, problem solving (when the flipper misses the pan!).

Why This Helps

The activity frames we create (as well as the goals we can work on within them) are very adjustable to where the child is at, and what he or she is ready to learn.  As well, the idea of frames helps us think about what we do as a family already, and use those activities as a way to teach our children – not in a contrived way, but in a natural way that all families do.

Having a consistent and enjoyable set of frames gives you the opportunity to work on goals with your child.  The goals may change over time. At dinner time, for example, you might work on on imitation by setting the table together. Later, you might work on problem solving by forgetting to put out forks or spoons. Still later, you might use dinner time for conversation and storytelling.

The idea of frames also addresses the question of time.  How much time would you expect to spend with a typical child?  Probably a significant amount.  If you take the time to think about what your child can do and is ready to do, the time you would spend with your child anyway can be very productive and also enjoyable. This, in fact, is a big part of what RDI or DIR/Floortime therapists help people do.

Over time, frames provide a way to see our children’s growth.  They behave differently and do more within the same activity, and we can look back and see how far they have come.

Starting a Frame

In my experience, it can be difficult to start – and persevere – with a new scheduled activity.  It helps if it’s something you have to do, of course (like baths).  Adding in something new can take some time for the child to buy in.  It’s really important to make sure the child enjoys connecting with you in the new activity, and it helps to find ways to connect the new activity to the child’s interests.  It’s OK to start small, and a good idea to end at a point when everyone is happy and enjoying themselves.

I accidentally was reminded of this when I tried taking my kids snowshoeing a couple of winters ago.  I made the mistake of bringing both at once.  One child loves winter and started trekking down the hill.  The other was less fond of cold weather and immediately demanded to go in.  In the end, we bargained for 10 more minutes outside…and possibly because she just had a taste and ended up intrigued, the older child is now asking that we go snowshoeing and cross country skiing this winter. I’ve got an opening for one child, anyway!  It’ll be important that we make time for that and build on it.

Creating and doing routine activities together are a big part of what family memories are made of.  They provide opportunities for skill development, social connection, and exploring interests. We sometimes feel it’s hard, especially when children are young, to go out and explore the world, but it’s possible to expand the activities our children can do and enjoy, one frame at a time.


Related Reading:

Go Fly a Kite: Exploring Your Family Culture

Hockey Is The New RDI

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