What is Floortime Therapy for Autism?

Discover the power of Floortime therapy for autism. Unlocking potential and fostering development in children.

June 19, 2024

Understanding Floortime Therapy

Floortime therapy, also known as Developmental Individual-difference Relationship-based therapy (DIR), is an approach developed by child psychiatrists Dr. Stanley Greenspan and Dr. Serena Wieder in the 1980s. It aims to address developmental delays and issues in children, particularly those with autism spectrum disorder [1]. The therapy focuses on promoting social and emotional development, communication skills, and parent-child interactions.

The Origins of Floortime

Floortime therapy was created based on the Developmental Individual-difference Relationship-based model (DIR) developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan and Dr. Serena Wieder. Their holistic approach takes into account the unique developmental profile of each child and aims to build functional emotional capacities and support their individual processing differences. The therapy was designed to provide children with autism the opportunity to develop essential skills while fostering a strong parent or caregiver-child relationship.

Principles of DIR/Floortime

The DIR/Floortime approach is guided by several principles that form the foundation of this therapy. These principles include:

  1. Individualization: Recognizing and understanding the unique developmental profile of each child, including their strengths, weaknesses, and processing differences.
  2. Relationship-based: Prioritizing the parent or caregiver-child relationship and emphasizing emotional connection and interaction as a means to promote development.
  3. Developmental stages: Focusing on the child's current developmental level and building on their existing skills to create more complex circles of communication.
  4. Floortime: Utilizing the technique of Floortime within the therapy, which involves following the child's lead and engaging in child-directed play to encourage active participation and learning.
  5. Functional emotional capacities: Addressing emotional and social development as a core component of intervention, helping children develop emotional regulation, engagement, and problem-solving skills.
  6. Six developmental milestones: Targeting six developmental milestones, including self-regulation and interest in the world, engagement, shared attention, two-way communication, complex communication, and emotional ideas. These milestones are important markers of progress in a child's overall development.

By adhering to these principles, Floortime therapy aims to support children with autism in their unique developmental journey, helping them reach their full potential. In the next sections, we will explore the differences between Floortime therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, as well as the practical aspects of implementing Floortime sessions and the research supporting its effectiveness.

Contrasting Floortime and ABA

When it comes to autism therapy, two commonly used approaches are Floortime therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). While both methods aim to improve developmental skills in children with autism, they differ in their approach and emphasis.

Approach to Autism Therapy

Floortime therapy, also known as Developmental Individual-difference Relationship-based therapy (DIR/Floortime), takes a child-led approach. Therapists, parents, and caregivers actively engage with the child, following their lead and promoting empowerment and active participation in therapy. The focus is on building emotional connections and meaningful interactions.

On the other hand, ABA therapy, developed in the 1960s by O. Ivar Lovaas, emphasizes behavior modification through positive reinforcement. It utilizes systematic and data-driven techniques to understand and modify behavior patterns. ABA therapy focuses on teaching new skills and reducing challenging behaviors through reinforcement and shaping techniques.

Effectiveness and Considerations

Both Floortime therapy and ABA therapy have shown effectiveness in improving developmental skills in children with autism. ABA therapy is considered an evidence-based best practice treatment for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It has been extensively researched and has a strong evidence base supporting its effectiveness.

Floortime therapy, on the other hand, has received an "emerging" rating in research, indicating the need for further studies to solidify its effectiveness. However, research on Floortime therapy has shown positive impacts on emotional development, communication, daily living skills, and parent-child interactions in autistic children.

When choosing between Floortime therapy and ABA therapy for a child with autism, it's important to consider individual needs and preferences. Some children may respond better to a child-led approach like Floortime, while others may benefit from the more structured and behavior-focused approach of ABA therapy. It is also worth noting that Floortime therapy often involves active participation from parents and caregivers, as they play a vital role in implementing the therapy in daily life.

Ultimately, the decision between Floortime therapy and ABA therapy should be made in collaboration with professionals, taking into account the unique needs and goals of the child with autism. To learn more about the benefits of Floortime therapy, please refer to our article on benefits of Floortime therapy for autism. If you are interested in becoming a Floortime therapist, you can find more information in our article on how to become a Floortime therapist.

Implementing Floortime Therapy

When it comes to implementing Floortime therapy, there are specific aspects to consider. This section will explore the structure of Floortime sessions and the training provided to parents and caregivers.

Structure of Floortime Sessions

Floortime sessions, as developed by Dr. Serena Weider and the late Dr. Stanley Greenspan in 1979, typically last about 20 minutes. These sessions can be conducted by parents, guardians, therapists, or older siblings of autistic children. The goal of Floortime is to observe the child, engage with them based on their interests, and encourage communication and interaction.

During Floortime sessions, the adult follows the child's lead, participating in play and activities that interest the child. The focus is on creating a safe and supportive environment that promotes interaction and emotional connection. This approach allows the child to take the lead and explore their own interests, while the adult actively engages with them, promoting back-and-forth communication and problem-solving skills.

It's important to note that Floortime therapy is portable and can be done almost anywhere. Sessions can take place at home or in a professional setting, allowing for flexibility and convenience. However, it's essential to ensure that the environment is calm and free from distractions, enabling the child to focus and engage fully.

Training for Parents and Caregivers

To effectively implement Floortime therapy, parents and caregivers receive training that equips them with the necessary skills and knowledge. This training emphasizes the principles and techniques of Floortime, empowering parents and caregivers to engage with their child in a meaningful way.

The training focuses on building shared attention, engagement, and problem-solving skills through back-and-forth play. Parents and caregivers learn how to identify and respond to their child's emotional and developmental needs, fostering a nurturing and supportive environment.

By providing parents and caregivers with the tools and guidance they need, Floortime therapy becomes a collaborative effort between professionals and families. This collaboration ensures that the child receives consistent support and reinforcement, both during therapy sessions and in daily life.

By understanding the structure of Floortime sessions and the importance of training for parents and caregivers, the implementation of Floortime therapy can be optimized. This therapy approach offers a unique and personalized way to support children with autism, promoting their communication, interaction, and overall development. For more information on the benefits of Floortime therapy, refer to our article on the benefits of Floortime therapy for autism.

Research on Floortime Therapy

When evaluating the effectiveness of Floortime therapy for autism spectrum disorders (ASD), it's important to consider the available research and its findings. While research on Floortime therapy is limited, studies have provided some insights into its potential benefits and limitations.

Studies and Findings

One notable study conducted by Greenspan & Wieder in 1997 retrospectively evaluated the charts of 200 children with ASD who received the Floortime intervention for 2 to 5 hours per day for two or more years. The study reported that 58% of the children showed "good to outstanding" outcomes, demonstrating 50 spontaneous circles of communication, mastery of all six milestones, and participation in pretend play. However, it's important to note that this study had limitations, including the lack of experimental control, potential experimenter bias, and the use of non-standard measures, which limit the validity of the findings.

Research on Floortime often focuses on training parents and therapists to implement the intervention and evaluating the fidelity of the training rather than assessing the effects of Floortime on standardized measures of development or language. As a result, the empirical validity of the available findings is limited. More rigorous studies are needed to provide stronger evidence for the effectiveness of Floortime therapy in treating ASD.

Limitations and Future Directions

The current research on Floortime therapy has several limitations. The lack of experimental control and the use of non-standard measures to assess outcomes limit the ability to draw definitive conclusions about the efficacy of the therapy. Additionally, the potential for experimenter bias in some studies further underscores the need for more rigorous research methodologies.

Future research should aim to address these limitations and evaluate the efficacy of DIR/Floortime as a treatment for children with ASD. Studies that employ experimental control and standardized measures of development and language can provide more robust evidence for the effectiveness of Floortime therapy. Comparisons with other established treatments can also help determine whether Floortime has significant impacts on the core diagnostic features of ASD.

Despite the limitations, some studies have shown promising outcomes. Floortime therapy has been associated with improved social interaction, communication, and emotional development in children with ASD. Home-based training programs focusing on DIR/floortime have also demonstrated benefits for children's emotional development and parents' parenting skills. Additionally, Floortime therapy has shown significant improvements in adaptive behavior, sensory processing patterns, and social/emotional skills such as increased relationship and social interaction.

While further research is needed to fully understand the effectiveness of Floortime therapy for ASD, these findings provide valuable insights into the potential benefits of the approach. As the field continues to evolve and new studies emerge, a clearer understanding of the impact of Floortime therapy on children with autism can be gained.

Benefits of Floortime Therapy

Floortime therapy, a key component of the DIR/Floortime model, offers several benefits for children with autism. By focusing on developmental milestones and building on the child's current skills through play, Floortime aims to facilitate growth and progress in various areas.

Developmental Milestones

Floortime therapy targets six essential developmental milestones identified within the DIR/Floortime model. These milestones include:

  1. Self-regulation and interest in the world: Floortime encourages children to engage with the environment, explore their interests, and develop self-awareness.
  2. Engagement and relating: Through interactive play, Floortime promotes back-and-forth interactions, social engagement, and the ability to connect with others emotionally.
  3. Intentional two-way communication: The therapy focuses on fostering communication skills, such as using gestures, words, and other forms of non-verbal and verbal communication to express needs, share ideas, and engage in meaningful interactions.
  4. Complex communication and shared problem-solving: Floortime encourages children to engage in more complex communication, such as reasoning, explaining, and negotiating, while collaborating with others to solve problems.
  5. Emotional ideas: The therapy aims to develop emotional thinking and understanding by helping children identify and express their emotions, as well as recognize and respond to the emotions of others.
  6. Logical thinking: Through Floortime, children are supported in developing logical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and the capacity to plan and reflect.

By targeting these milestones, Floortime therapy provides a framework for children to progress in their social, emotional, and cognitive development.

Impact on Children with Autism

Research suggests that Floortime therapy has a positive impact on children with autism. A retrospective study by Greenspan & Wieder in 1997 found that 58% of children who received Floortime intervention demonstrated "good to outstanding" outcomes, including mastery of all six developmental milestones and active participation in pretend play. However, it's important to note that the study's limitations, such as the lack of experimental control and non-standard measures, limit the generalizability of these findings.

Floortime therapy has been shown to augment social interaction, communication skills, and emotional development in children with autism. Additionally, home-based training programs on DIR/Floortime have been found to benefit both children and parents, improving emotional functioning, communication, daily living skills, and parenting skills.

Parents' active engagement during Floortime sessions plays a crucial role in the child's improvement. Increased parental involvement has been associated with improved interaction between the child and parent, as well as positive changes in the child's emotional functioning, communication, and daily living skills.

Furthermore, Floortime therapy has shown significant improvements in attachment, adaptive behavior, sensory processing patterns, and social-emotional skills. It has been particularly effective in easing autism symptoms in children across the autism spectrum, from severely autistic to mildly and moderately autistic individuals.

Overall, Floortime therapy offers a comprehensive approach to supporting children with autism in their developmental journey. By addressing the milestones crucial to social, emotional, and cognitive growth, Floortime can have a positive impact on the lives of children with autism and their families.

Practical Applications of Floortime

Floortime therapy is a versatile and practical approach that can be incorporated into various aspects of a child's daily life. By providing opportunities for meaningful interactions and play, Floortime aims to promote social and emotional development in children with autism. Let's explore some real-life examples and ways to incorporate Floortime in daily life.

Real-Life Examples

Floortime sessions, which typically last about 20 minutes, can be conducted by parents, guardians, therapists, or older siblings of autistic children. These sessions involve observing the child, engaging with them based on their interests, and encouraging communication and interaction. Here are a few real-life examples of how Floortime can be applied:

  1. Mealtime: Make mealtimes more interactive by involving your child in food preparation, such as stirring, pouring, or picking out ingredients. Encourage conversation and engagement by asking questions or playing simple games like "I spy" during the meal.
  2. Playtime: Create a play area where your child can explore and engage with toys and activities that pique their interest. Get down on the floor with them, follow their lead, and join in their play. Use this time to promote communication, problem-solving, and social interactions.
  3. Daily routines: Incorporate Floortime into everyday routines such as bath time, getting dressed, or bedtime. Use these moments to engage with your child, establish a connection, and foster communication by narrating the steps, singing songs, or playing interactive games.

Incorporating Floortime in Daily Life

Floortime is a portable therapy that can be done almost anywhere, making it easy to integrate into daily life. Here are some suggestions for incorporating Floortime into your child's routine:

  1. Car rides: Use car rides as an opportunity for communication and interaction. Sing songs together, play verbal games like "I spy," or have conversations about the things you see outside the window.
  2. Outings: When going to the park, grocery store, or other outings, engage with your child by talking about what you see, asking questions, or playing games related to the environment. Encourage your child to express their thoughts and feelings.
  3. Chores and household activities: Involve your child in age-appropriate household chores or activities. This can include setting the table, sorting laundry, or watering plants. Use these moments to connect, communicate, and work together as a team.

Remember, the goal of incorporating Floortime into daily life is to create meaningful human interactions, promote communication, and support your child's social and emotional development. While Floortime can be a valuable addition to your child's routine, it may not be sufficient on its own for children with higher support needs. It is recommended to seek guidance from professionals and consider a comprehensive approach to therapy.

By incorporating Floortime into various everyday situations, you can provide your child with ample opportunities for growth, communication, and social interaction. The key is to follow your child's lead, engage with them based on their interests, and create a nurturing environment that promotes their individual development.


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