According to the theory behind Floortime, every back and forth interaction between you and your child (verbal or non-verbal) helps to build skills. Those interactions can be clinical, but they can also be a lot of fun. Think of them as ways to build family connections by cultivating your child’s emotional growth. If you can, get your spouse involved. Bring along friends and relations.
Greenspan's book The Child with Special Needs is a great resource for getting underway. In it, you'll find guidelines, suggestions, and a terrific collection of "what ifs" and scenarios. Once you've read the book, you might decide to seek out a certified Floortime therapist (check Floortime for recommendations) or just get started on your own.
As you start to play with your autistic child, you'll find it's often hard work. You’re the leader -- and, sometimes, you’re the follower. You’re the noise maker, the silly one, the one with all the energy. If you really want to engage your child, you’ll probably have to make a fool of yourself—and enjoy it—for your child’s sake.
As an adult, you’ve spent years becoming appropriate, quiet, careful. Remember, though, that your autistic child isn’t worried about other peoples’ stares. He doesn’t care about peer pressure. It’s ok with him if you’re silly. So maybe—just maybe—it really is ok.
Here are just a few little “try its” – ideas to get your creative juices flowing even outside the confines of Floortime therapy sessions. Think of them as ways to build family connections by cultivating your child’s emotional growth. If you can, get your spouse involved. Bring along friends and relations. Have fun.
If your child is under-responsive, as mine is, try going to the beach and standing in the surf. They’ll love the physical crash of the waves. Then—jump with the waves. Run from the waves. Jump into the waves. Ask your child “should we jump or stand still? Should we stand in the waves or on the beach?” Make sure he responds, even with gestures, as each and every wave comes in.
If there’s no beach handy (and your child can handle sand), try the sand box. Follow your child’s lead as he interacts with the sand. Bury interesting objects with varying textures to dig for and discover. Pretend to dig like a dog. Try using a seive or sand-wheel. If your child is verbal, ask him to guess what’s buried (by feeling it). Is it smooth like an egg? Bumpy like a golf ball? Then dig it up together.
If you’re feeling brave, try going to a zoo, aquarium, or natural history museum. Observe your child to see which critters intrigue him. Ask him to show you what the animal does. Then (here’s the brave part) be that animal—together! Flick your tongues like a snake. Pretend to dig like a praire dog. Roar like lions!
It takes practice to ignore the quizzical looks and stares of the folks around you. To remember that being silly and having fun together is what good parenting is all about. To let go of that overwhelming need to teach and lead your child—and to follow him. But that’s what parenting is really all about.
The journey isn’t always easy. But from time to time—and more and more often as your child progresses—it can be a lot of fun.
(Portions of this article were originally published by The Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders)