An introduction to Floortime by Dr. Stanley Greenspan himself

Let us give you an introduction to Floortime! During a television interview, Dr. Stanley Greenspan introduced his Floortime model and approach. He identified three key developments from his research on children with developmental problems. The first of these is the importance of affect and relationships for the growth of the brain and mind. The second is that there are significant variations in the underlying processing capacities of children. Third is the recognition of what the integrated early stages of development actually are.

Dr. Greenspan’s research and insights are responsible for moving our understanding of developmental problems beyond merely managing surface behaviors. He dove beneath the surface. In so doing, he uncovered the importance of emotions and relationships in development. In this introduction to Floortime, he also identified the important ways in which children can differ in their processing capacities. And Dr. Greenspan organized early development so that therapists and practitioners would be able to meet the child where they are and help them climb the developmental ladder.

To learn more than this introduction to Floortime about the Floortime Approach from Dr. Stanley Greenspan and his son Jake Greenspan, sign up for one of our courses at Floortime U.

We’re at an important crossroads now because we know more about how the mind and brain developed than we ever knew before. We’re going to learn more in the next 10 to 20 years still. This gives us an opportunity to redefine the standards of care for infants and children with severe developmental problems, including children with autistic spectrum disorders and also other problems in relating and communicating.

Dr. Stanley Greenspan

The older [behaviorist] model did the best that it could under the circumstances. The older model worked with surface behaviors. A lot of behavioral work just to modify how children behaved. That was better than ignoring children, doing nothing, and simply trying to contain their aggressive or withdrawing behavior. In its time and for a long time, it was the only treatment available.

It was a very very promising development, because it got people working intensively. It got people feeling optimistic about what could be done. But now we can go beyond working on modifying behaviors and work on some of the underlying issues that are giving children trouble. We can really now begin to systematize what might be called a developmental approach that synthesizes and integrates all the best information we have about how the mind and the brain grow.

There are 3 insights over the last twenty years that are the cornerstones of our new way of working with infants and children with developmental problems.

Importance of affect and relationships for growth

One of these is the importance of affect and relationships for the growth of the brain and the mind. It used to be thought that if you want a particular cognitive skill, you stimulate that particular cognitive skill. Now we know that the brain grows most rapidly in the early years as an outgrowth of interactions with caregivers. So every word in our language has to be lived first to understand it. You don’t define an apple by its redness and roundness. You define it by how it tastes and what it feels like to throw it.

So language cognition, math and quantity concepts are all conveyed through interactive relationships through affect. That’s one important new insight. So we can’t teach children in the old fashioned ways anymore, particularly children with special needs who have processing problems. This means working not only within a relationship with a child but with the whole family pattern, because it’s within the family context, actually the cultural and community context, that these relationships and these emotional interactions occur. So it means a much broader relationship-based, family-based approach, cultural and community-based approach to children with special needs.

Underlying processing capacity differences

The second new development that in the last 10 to 20 years we’ve also figured out is that there are important underlying processing capacities that are behind children’s worrisome behavior. So we’ve understood how children are individually different in the way they process sounds, auditory processing and language. The way they process what they see, visual spatial processing, whether a child can find the hidden object, whether a child can search for an object, whether a child can understand mommy’s in the next room and I’m here and doesn’t get panicked. Also motor planning and sequence [have differences in processing capacities].

We find enormous variations among children in how they can plan options. Some children can only do banging. Some can put a toy car in a garage and take it out. Other children can take the car out of the garage, take it to grandmother’s house, and then bring the car back with some extra tea for mommy who’s sitting back at the original house. So one child does a one step or a two step action plan while another child is doing a six or seven step planned action pattern. This is what we call motor planning and sequencing, which is enormously important for children.

We find a lot of children with autistic spectrum disorders have severe problems with their motor planning and sequencing and that underlies a lot of their repetitive behavior. You see, if you can’t plan and sequence, you’re going to repeat. We also find that a lot of children who are self-absorbed are under-reactive to things like touch and sound. A lot of other children are very avoidant and run away from people. It’s not that they don’t love people. It’s because they’re over-reactive to things like touch and sound.

So we need to look at the sensory modulation of the child to find the right pattern to pull that child into a relationship. This is the second area of big insight—individual differences in the way that a child processes their sensations and plans their motor actions. This explains a lot of the surface behaviors. If you work with the underlying processing differences, then you can influence many behaviors and help the child be adaptive across a broad range of issues rather than just work on isolated cognitive skills or isolated behaviors.

Identifying the stages of development

The third big area of insight based on our new research is to understand what the early stages of development are. Historically, we thought of development in very isolated ways. For example with motor development, we have a timetable for sitting up and for walking. For language development, we have a timetable for when the first sounds are made and when the first words are made. The same for different areas of areas of cognitive development, for when the child searches in your hand for an object, for when a child can stack blocks in a certain way, and so forth and so on. For social and emotional development, a timetable for when a child will greet, when a child will play with peers, and when a child will do some pretending.

But each area has been separate. So we’ve had separate lines for each area of development, as though these are somewhat independent of one another. But in fact for the child all these lines of development are interrelated. The child doesn’t separate out their language and their motor skills. He doesn’t say “Well I’m a 4-year-old motor-wise but I’m only a 2-year-old language-wise, and only an 8-month-old socially and emotionally.” The child integrates all of these in one smooth way.

In the last 10-20 years we’ve put together what we call the functional developmental roadmap. Here we now have identified the core levels that synthesize and integrate all the different developmental capacities. We’ve identified six core levels and then additional ones beyond that that help us organize where we want to work with the child. So then we try to identify where the child is not only in their language or motor development, but in their core functional developmental capacities. Then we meet the child where they are and work up the developmental ladder.

Dr. Stanley Greenspan

If you are a parent or a professional, you can go beyond this introduction to Floortime through one of our Floortime U. online classes.

Learn more about Dr. Stanley Greenspan and the Greenspan Floortime approach. If you are new, we have a background and introduction to Greenspan Floortime including how it helps special needs children. We also have Greenspan Floortime training courses at Floortime U. specifically designed for parents and professionals including the Floortime Manual.

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