Engaging Children with Autism

Are you having a difficult time playing with your child with Autism?

How can play help you and your child with Autism communicate and bond? Your child with Autism may want to play in a different way, such as with a string, tap a ball, or rock back and forth. All you want is to be able to interact with your child. DIR/Floortime is an evidence-based approach to help you interact with your child, it teaches you to get into your child’s world to introduce the beginning stages of play.

DIR is the Developmental, Individual-Differences, and Relationship-Based model, developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan to understand the social-emotional development of childhood play and communication.  Through the techniques used during a play-based approach like DIR/Floortime, you and your child will be able to bond during playtime. To have your child interact with you, you first need to follow the child’s lead. DIR focuses on taking what the child does, joining in, and then expanding upon it. When the parent gets into the child’s world of imagination, it sparks a signal to the child that the caregiver is not stopping me from playing with a string, but is now playing with the string and with me.

The parent then builds upon the child’s idea and labels things.  If a child holding a ball drops it, the parent may say “down” or “bye-bye ball.”  This gives a child without language meaning to what they were doing.  If a child wants to open up a container that has blocks in it, the parent may act as if they are unable to open the box by pretending they are having great difficulty opening the box. This will lead to the child engaging more with the parent and eventually, the child will try to help open the box.

The use of affect is also very important, it is the main factor in showing your child how to understand emotion.  Affect is an emotion, a desire, or an intent as well as an emotional message. The use of facial expressions, body language, gestures, and tone of voice are a great way to help the child to understand ideas and emotions. Affect allows the child to become more aware of different emotions and understand how to better communicate.  You want the child to fall in love with you, to have a twinkle in their eye, and to guide you to things with which they want you to play. 

This program is used by speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists at The Therapy Spot.  It is a wonderful model because the ultimate goal is for the parent to be coached on the techniques and then incorporate these techniques at home.  To learn more about DIR/Floortime and how to best play with your child, contact an occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist at the Therapy Spot. The Therapy Spot families are willing to share their success stories in the clinic and at home with this approach.  You can also learn more about DIR/Floortime by reading the book, Engaging Autism, by Stanley Greenspan and The Child with Special Needs by Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder.


ICDL. (n.d.). DIR 101: An introduction to DIR and DIR/Floortime [PDF]. Retrieved from https://www.floortime.org/pluginfile.php/124986/mod_resource/content/11/DIR%20101%20Handouts.pdf

ICDL. (n.d.). DIR®. Retrieved from https://www.icdl.com/dir

Jessica Ravineala. (n.d.). Play and Regulation: Part One [PDF].

Spielmann,, V. (n.d.). DIR Glossary of Terms [PDF]. Retrieved from https://www.floortime.org/pluginfile.php/125016/mod_resource/content/1/DIR%20Glossary%20of%20Terms.