Wednesday, July 1, 2009

DIR/Floortime has been one of the most effective interventions for my son

Gil Tippy with Susan Roberts and Sujata Setya

Dr. Gil Tippy, the Clinical Director of the Rebecca School, spoke to our group on June 16th. He did a fantastic job of explaining DIR/Floortime. He was witty and persuasive. He talked about his journey from ABA to DIR, which was not dissimilar to mine. He showed us videos of interactions with kids who initially appeared pretty unrelated but quickly began interacting with the therapist using the Floortime technique. He discussed his work with Dr. Stanley Greenspan, who is a consultant to the Rebecca School, and the book Dr. Tippy is writing about his research. The most striking thing Dr. Tippy mentioned was that the kids who have been at Rebecca School for 3 years no longer have the diagnostic criteria to be classified as autistic.

For my son, Floortime has been a fantastic intervention. When my son was diagnosed with the catch-all we all know and love, PDD-NOS, it was recommended that he receive 40 hours of ABA. He was not yet 2 and that sounded like a lot of structure for a 19 month-old child to me. We signed him up and he pretty quickly figured out that if he got all his “programs” done, his therapist would play with him. She walked in, he reeled them off as fast as possible. It always felt uncomfortable but I pushed aside my gut instinct because this is what our expert said he needed. At one point, one ABA therapist said my son could read 50 words. As a test, I rewrote them in different ink on different color paper. He couldn’t read any of the words – they were meaningless to him. Another therapist thought it would be a good idea to reward this 2 YO kid with pennies. Well, once he had two pennies, one for each hand, he was satisfied. On top of all that, we were instructed to stop him from doing any stim. Anyone with a stimmy kid knows that this job is a full-time one! Instead of having fun with your kid, you spend all your time as an adversary trying to stop them from doing something that, in all likelihood, they are doing because they need to.

What was the problem with this approach? The things that motivated my son were not being respected and enjoyed. The words the therapist chose were the words she thought he should know – not words that symbolized anything he was interested in or that got him anything he wanted. The pennies, he could care less about them. Plus, because I was always saying stuff like “hands down” and “stop spinning”, he was avoiding me and our relationship was suffering.

My epiphany came when I went to a SonRise training session. The first thing they said was join your child in their stims. I got home from that week, sat down next to my son and started spinning cars with him. He gave me the biggest smile I had seen in probably a year and within seconds was telling me how to spin the car, which car to spin and just like that we were interacting. The other important principle was to harness the things your child enjoys and build on them. My son quickly began to be happier and more related. It was very exciting.

When Rebecca School opened, we were thrilled. At last a school that used the same kind of principles we were applying at home with such success! DIR/Floortime is very similar to SonRise – respect your child and what they love, make the interaction the reward, the relationship is paramount. My son has attended the school for 3 years and continues to make huge strides socially and emotionally and academically. He loves to go to school. He is so much happier and so much more connected to family, friends, teachers and therapists. My son and I are no longer adversaries; we are on the same team now.

The bottom line is that ABA can teach a child rote skills but can’t really teach natural emotional and social behavior. You want your child to be motivated to relate to others because they want to, not because they are following a rule. In life, if a person can’t have social relationships, they will have extreme difficulty having a job or a lover, no matter how good they are at quantum physics.

1 comment:

Gil said...

Just wanted to thank you all for the great honor of speaking at your meeting, and also thank you for honoring me at your holiday party in December. I got inspired and began a blog myself, and if you are interested in topics relevant to the autism community and DIR in particular, you can find my blog at

Hope to see you all soon,

Gil Tippy, PsyD