A misconception about Floortime is that it is highly “unstructured”. People mistakenly think that Floortime lets kids do whatever they want; there are no boundaries, expectations, or challenges. If you have learned and practiced The Greenspan Floortime Approach®, you know this is false.
The Greenspan Floortime Approach® is a flexible, child-centered intervention that is highly adaptive to their individual profile and needs. It has a structure in principles, techniques, and is individually adapted for each child. The Greenspan Floortime Approach® refers to this structure as ‘Dynamic Structure™’. It is not fixed/rigid like a behavioral intervention, which is a one-size-fits-all approach that is performed the same way, regardless of the child’s needs and abilities.
Every Greenspan Floortime™ session must include the three legs of the Greenspan Floortime™ Stool: Relating, Communicating, and Thinking. These are the most basic, universal principles applied across all therapies that create structure when doing Greenspan Floortime™. Dr. Greenspan’s contribution to the world of social-emotional health was his six primary and three advanced Developmental Milestones in his Greenspan/DIR™ Model. These milestones serve as a validated framework outlining what social-emotional health is and a tool to set goals for children with delays. All of these pieces represent its structure.
The various Greenspan Floortime™ techniques that we apply, based on given situations and settings, help us achieve these goals. Since Greenspan Floortime™ is child-centered, we are working on strengthening the child’s unique profile and needs. Every Floortime session (even with the same child), will look different. Sometimes there will be mild differences. Other times there will be significant differences.
There is an outward expectation governed by organizing principles and goals, and available techniques, that allow us to create structure. How we interpret the child’s needs for individualized techniques, identify the session’s relevant goals, and apply the intervention in a flexible and adaptive manner; hence, the Dynamic in ‘Dynamic Structure™’.
This concept doesn’t just infuse itself within 30-minute Greenspan Floortime™ sessions. This concept is also necessary for families and professionals in daily life. A child’s day should not be fixed and rigid, where every day at 9:00 AM, we do 30 spins clockwise and 30 spins counterclockwise. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give enough flexibility and adaptability to address the child’s unique system and needs. However, deciding that every morning, midday, and afternoon, we are going to do interactive, sensory-motor activities to help keep the child regulated, is a structure with flexibility and adaptability. This allows us to address needs, be adaptive and keep a schedule.
Those three interactive, sensory-motor activities may look entirely different each time. In the morning, the child may need some vestibular input by spinning, swinging, or being tossed in the air. In the middle of the day, it may be vestibular and some proprioceptive or tactile input, by doing things like crashing, squishing and playing with different textures. At the end of the day, it may be more about gentle rough-housing, getting input into the joints and muscles, stimulating the perceptive and tactile systems. If done in a slow and controlled manner, this can calm us more, instead of making us more alert/stimulated as the movement does in the morning.
Knowing that 3-4 times a day, at regularly spaced intervals, we want to be providing a child with child-centered interactive play opportunities, is structure. Knowing the ‘big-picture’ set of developmental goals, is structure. Assuring that every experience entices a child to voluntarily engage, interact, and think, is structure. Setting boundaries in a calm but firm, nurturing, empathetic manner, is structure.
No one knows how a child’s day will play out. The child is the only one who can show us what they need. For children with communication delays, like ASD, we have to be able to interpret what they need based on their subtle cues. That is where the adaptability, flexibility, and dynamic nature of this intervention come into play. Sometimes they will need physical play. Other times they will want to play with toys. Sometimes we can challenge more and on tough days, we will challenge less. We don’t avoid the session when they’re not feeling well, we simply do something in a more calm and subdued manner. Again, we have the outward expectation of structure, but on the inside, we have a lot of room for creativity, adaptability, and flexibility.
The same is true when planning Greenspan Floortime™ sessions. It doesn’t have to be in the same place, doing the same game/activity every time. Making ourselves available, saying that mom or dad would be available for 30 minutes in the morning and evening; and the other parent will be available 30 minutes in the middle of the day, is a structure that allows us to apply and utilize the flexible techniques of The Greenspan Floortime Approach®.
This concept of Dynamic Structure™ is essential for understanding how The Greenspan Floortime Approach® can be both a science and an art. It’s also important to understand this concept, in order to effectively be providing Greenspan Floortime™ to your child or supporting families who use it.