FLOOR TIME: Be Your Child’s Own Personal Play Therapist!

Children with developmental delays have often missed crucial milestones in cognitive learning. Because of problems like sensory integration disorder or other neuro-processing difficulties, they’ve had “gaps” in their intellectual growth. These gaps can cause further problems as the child is not able to build upon skills which don’t exist. He or she needs intensive, daily therapy to literally start at the beginning and re-learn certain milestones to compensate for the deficiencies.

Early intervention programs, therapists, educators, and specialists can all be extremely beneficial. However, it is not enough. These kids need one-on-one concentrated attention to help them climb the developmental ladder, especially when some “rungs” are missing.

How you can help your child:

As the parent of a special needs child, you have been given a unique opportunity to roll up your sleeves, get on the floor, (or sit up to the table) and be your child’s personal play therapist. It sounds daunting at first. As parents, we’ve seen too many television images of parents reading the newspaper or chatting on the phone while telling Johnny and Susie to “run along and play.” Maybe our own parents weren’t very involved in playing with us as kids. And maybe we think we’re involved parents because we go outside and throw a ball, go to movies, cook dinner, or visit museums as a family, but we probably don’t spend a tremendous amount of time actually “playing” with our kids. So how do we do it?

By learning to play with your child in what is often referred to as “floor time,” YOU can make a tremendous difference in your son or daughter’s life. You can redirect anti-social behaviors, bring purpose to repetitive actions, and help build language skills. You can teach turn-taking, sharing, and help to improve abstract reasoning skills.

You don’t need lofty degrees or years of study. You only need understand a few basic concepts, and have the desire to help your child. As Mom or Dad, you have greater access to your child and more love for him or her than anyone else. Is there anyone better qualified than you?

In previous blogs, I have already touched on several “floor time” techniques. However, I felt it was important to explain the principals behind them.

What is Floor Time?

Floor time is approximately 20 – 30 minutes of uninterrupted play time with your child, where you literally get down on the ground and enter his world. It has been suggested that several sessions per day, as many as you are reasonably able to have, is ideal. Once a day is not enough.

What am I supposed to do?

  1. Provide a play space for the two of you to interact, with some freedom to move and explore. Provide toys or activities.
  2. Let your son or daughter select the activity. This is important. You should sit back and let the child pick up the toy or object she wants, even if it’s the same strange object every time. Even if the activity is simply staring at the wallpaper, that’s okay as a starting point.
  3. Your primary goal is to get your child to interact with you. If the child already interacts, then the goal is to improve those interactions in the following ways:
  • Promote personal interest and attention. You are trying to involve yourself in what your child is doing so that you soon become someone she tolerates, speaks to, interacts with, shares with, and bonds with more meaningfully.
  • Promote better communication skills. You want your child to make better attempts at eye-contact, and effectively use language to express himself.
  • Promote the expression of feelings and ideas. Ideally, your child will eventually be able to express sadness, frustration, empathy, and happiness in words. You want your child to be able to share her ideas about the things she sees and experiences.
  • Promote logical thinking. If a, then b. Your child will have more successful life experiences when she understands logic and develops her ability to properly sequence tasks and events.

How on earth do I teach these things?

In my next blog, I will present some specific techniques for working toward these goals. The basic principal is that you ease yourself gradually into the play, and attempt to engage your child in interaction and language that is meaningful. You are gently going to put some obstacles in your child’s path that will cause him to think, respond, and express himself.

Floor time is an opportunity you have to ultimately redefine your child’s life. How about rolling up your sleeves, getting on the floor, and letting the play begin?

Floor Time is an intervention model developed by by Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D. and can be found in his wonderful book, The Child with Special Needs, by Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D., and Serena Wieder, Ph.D.

Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here.