This is the fifth and last blog in my 5-part floor time series. (“Floor Time” refers to getting down on the floor with your special needs child, and becoming his or her personal play therapist.) There is so much you can do as a parent to help your special needs child develop communication, motor, and social skills—and you only need to play with your child using a few particular techniques! If you’d like to start at the beginning of my five-part series, click here.
At this point in your floor-time sessions, your child should be tolerating your presence, taking turns and interacting, and expressing simple feelings and ideas with words. However, you may have noticed that he isn’t always connecting his thoughts together in a logical way. Maybe her focus shifts rapidly between toys or games. One minute, he’s pushing the trucks on the carpet, making engine noises, and the next he’s fiddling with the door knob. Perhaps her language is also a bit disjointed and her verbal exchanges lack cohesion and flow: “Dolly is sad—now I want green crayon play.” Don’t be alarmed. If your child is putting words to feelings, you’ve made tremendous strides. You now need to help your son or daughter build a bridge between thoughts and emotions that will help promote logical thinking.
In your 20-30 minute twice-daily sessions, you will still be following your child’s lead, allowing him or her to select your pretend play activities. However, when your child switches to a new activity you will try to build a bridge to connect the two. Rather than allow your son or daughter to rapidly jump from one interest to the next, you will attempt to tie them together in a logical way. For example:
Stretch Out Your Dramatic Play Scenes
- If your daughter is pretending to have a tea party and suddenly reaches for a block, keep the drama going. “Oh, a box of cookies! Yum! Cookies will be good for our tea party.”
- If your son is playing with animals on the floor and walks away with one, keep the drama going. Pretend to speak for one of the animals. “Hey where are you going? Are you going to get food from the farmer? We’re hungry! Hurry back!”
- If you’re playing dolls with your child and she suddenly drops hers on the floor and leaves, stretch out the pretending. “Oh no! Your baby fell down! Ouch! We’ll need to take her to the doctor.”
Stretch Out the Dialogue on a Particular Topic
In the same way you are stretching out the dramatic play “scenes,” you should also attempt to increase the dialogue that you have with your child, specifically attempting to keep him on the same topic for several exchanges or more. For example:
- If your child asks for a drink, ask “what kind of drink? Is that your favorite? What cup do you want it in? Do you want a lot or just a little? ”
- If he’s reading a book, ask questions about the pictures that keep him interested in the basic plot of the story. Use questions that tie back to feelings. “Look! The frog is sad! Why is he sad?”
- Make sure that you are not merely having parallel conversations, narrating along with your child’s actions. Strive for real conversation. This means your child is forming some sort of response to the things you say. Sometimes you’ll have to be persistent, asking the same questions more than once with increasing emphasis, to encourage responses. Ask your child open-ended questions.
- Your child will naturally be more motivated to have an extended conversation about things she likes. If she loves to be silly, rather than get annoyed when she won’t answer your questions, join in the silliness. Ask her silly questions and engage her in humorous topics. If he enjoys music, let him choose songs he wants to listen to, and ask him questions about them, encouraging him to respond.
As your child progresses, continue to focus on a) teaching the child to acknowledge his own feelings and the feelings of others—you can do this through pretend play, and b) connecting two ideas together—“I am hungry, so I want to eat.” “She was mean, so I am angry,” and c) gradually broadening his experiences, giving him all kinds of rich opportunities to explore, discover, and experience, so his ability to think in the abstract will increase.
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.