Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is it Floortime, or Is It Me?

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

How many of you have heard that before? When you hear it at the end of a relationship, it sounds like a bad excuse for breaking up with someone. But, sometimes, there’s truth to the statement. Sometimes two people are just not meant to be together.

Now, as we are having increasingly frequent behavior challenges with our son, I wonder if it is time to say, “It’s not you, Floortime, it’s me.”

The principles of Floortime have never come easily to me.

I was raised the “Asian” way, meaning that I didn’t have a lot of playful interactions with my parents. My upbringing was more the polar opposite of the Floortime model: stern parents, little room for discussion, obeying what you are told to do.

On the other hand, the way that I was raised was not exactly according to the ABA model either. When it came to positive reinforcement, well, let’s just say that the only carrots I saw were on my dinner plate. Good behavior was expected. It was the norm. There were no carrots/rewards for doing well. But, for bad deeds, well, there was a price to be paid.

With my son, however, we have used elements of both philosophies. We use the positive reinforcement aspects of ABA quite a bit. And though I didn’t personally experience much of that in my own childhood, I understand the reasoning behind it. It makes empirical sense to me. And I see how it works with my son.

On the other hand, the Floortime philosophy is a lot harder for me to grasp. I do understand the idea of following the child’s lead and building relationships, showing that we understand him and encouraging interactions. But I’m unsure about what to do when our son misbehaves, as he has more often these days.

Some of the psychologists who espouse the Floortime approach have said that when our son does not respond to a request to begin homework, for example, that means that he is communicating that he is not ready to work and may need to be given more time. My natural reaction, on the other hand, would be to give him some type of punishment for not complying.

If he gets angry and uses unsafe words, their counsel may be to use humor to get him to laugh and break the tension. My natural reaction is to give him a timeout for using those unsafe words.

The past few weeks, my son seems more defiant. He laughs it off when I tell him that he has made a bad choice. He is more disrespectful to my wife and me. In my gut, it feels wrong to laugh off those situations with humor. It feels like we are failing to teach our child discipline when we just go with his desires not to do something he doesn’t want to do.

I don’t doubt that Floortime has been a huge benefit in many respects. We turned to it in the hopes of improving our son’s skills for natural and spontaneous communication. And he has improved remarkably in those areas. So, maybe this is a case of having to take the bad with the good. Perhaps as my son speaks much more freely, we may not like everything that he says.

I’m also well aware that the problem may be that I just don’t understand the principles of Floortime well enough to execute it correctly. And that is why the problem may be more me than anything.

Still, as my son gets further and further away from respectful person I want him to be, I wonder if we are doing right by him by continuing to do what we have been doing.

It’s time to give critical thought as to whether it is our approach, our execution, or something else that needs to change.


  1. I've never heard of Floortime. However, you are constantly monitoring, establishing cause and effect, including new variables and adapting to the outcomes. This is the scientific, and, correct method...and that is what is important. Through this process, I am sure you will find what is best.

  2. Floortime is a play-based therapy. Its principle philosophy is to follow the child’s natural emotional interests (lead) while at the same time challenge the child towards greater and greater mastery of the social, emotional and intellectual capacities. I think it has helped my son have more natural interactions with other people, as has greatly reduced the more robotic responses we saw in the earlier days when we were doing ABA.

    I think the challenge is to understand this method better and mold it to our way of thinking so that it becomes more intuitive for us.


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