When learning Dr. Greenspan’s Greenspan/DIR™ Model, or as it is referred to in its final version, The Learning Tree, it is important to understand why Dr. Greenspan used various terms such as stages, levels, milestones, and capacities in his 40 books referring to the Social-Emotional Developmental Levels/Stages/Milestones/ Capacities he became so famous for identifying and observing in young children.  While we certainly don’t need all of those different terms that he used in various books, two of the terms describe different key elements of his model.  To effectively teach and use his framework, professionals must understand how both the terms, milestones and capacities, interplay.

When Dr. Greenspan first wrote about his DIR model, before it even had that name, one of his first books, Intelligence and Adaptation, he synthesized ideas from Freud and Erickson, Skinner and Pavlov, as well as using the concept stages or milestones from Piaget. One of his greatest contributions to the field of pediatric mental health and child development was the idea that children develop through these stages, levels, or as we call them, milestones in a progressive fashion within different age ranges, at different timeframes within their lives. His most important contribution was that movement through these milestones was driven by emotional experiences during the early years, and that these experiences stimulated the development of our brain, moving us from one milestone to the next. You can see the concept of milestones is paramount to understanding his work. Unfortunately, other Floortime curricula, like ICDL’s, choose not to use the term milestone in reference to Dr. Greenspan’s model. Instead, many have chosen a single term, capacities, to describe the sets of skills that children develop within these milestones.

The concept of capacities is important, because we’re not just learning singular rigid skills. The abilities children are developing within these timeframes are much broader, adaptive, and abstract concepts and sets of skills that should be referred to as capacities.  For example, the capacity to relate and engage is not simply eye contact. There are many components of the concept of engaging and falling in love with our caregivers and developing other meaningful relationships. The ability to engage, relate, and connect with warmth in a broad range of emotions is far more complicated than a single skill. However, as we think about the process of developing and strengthening these capacities, we quickly move from using one set of skills to the next.  This is where the concept of milestones must come into play. For example, the next milestone in the Greenspan’s DIR model is Two-Way Reciprocal Communication’ and the child’s ability to both respond and initiate gestural communication through facial expressions and gestures. This ability to be reciprocal is necessary for interacting with the world around us and happens within the first few weeks of life as babies start mimicking the facial expressions of their caregivers. To do this, a child must also be engaged with and sharing attention with their caregiver.  In Dr. Greenspan’s version of his Greenspan/DIR model, he declares that you always work on milestones 1, 2, and 3 together, and never in isolation or one at a time.  Unfortunately, many ‘DIR’ trained professionals will say things like, “I’m working on regulation, or engagement”, but the truth is that you cannot work on these things outside of co-regulated interactions.  Listen to Dr. Greenspan’s explain this in his own words

One milestone leads to the next which leads to the next.  We’re constantly going back and refining earlier milestones as we work on latter ones. This concept is important to understand holistic child development.  For us to move on to higher milestones, we have to attain a certain level of mastery of the prior milestones. Unfortunately, simply using the term capacity does not elicit the same thought process and understanding that allows us to conceptualize what Dr. Greenspan meant when he was talking about the holistic process of a child’s social-emotional growth. While ICDL and their curriculum choose to only use the term capacities, The Greenspan Floortime Approach® understands that using both terms milestones and capacities, is necessary to fully grasp and conceptualize Dr. Greenspan’s framework.

To learn how to apply The Greenspan Floortime Approach®.  Register for the Professional or Caregiver/Parent Course at www.stanleygreenspan.com. Parents and Professionals can also receive Greenspan Floortime® Expert tele-coaching with video analysis and feedback.

For in-person Greenspan Floortime® based OT, SLP, Social Group Programs, and coaching contact The Floortime Center®, www.thefloortimecenter.com.