Thursday, February 10, 2011

Through the Looking Glass: Fun with Floortime

By: Cindy Tovar, M.S.Ed. - Special Education Teacher

            When I graduated college, my first job was at an early intervention agency.  They gave me a three-day training in ABA, and I was on my way.
            After a couple of weeks, I realized that ABA made me uncomfortable.  I didn’t like the feeling it gave me when I gave a child a potato chip after performing each discrete trial. I felt that the world didn’t function that way, and I saw first-hand the difficulty of generalizing the skills I was teaching them.
            I grew discouraged, unhappy with the way I was teaching these children.  I felt that the small breaks of play in between each trial had more teachable moments in them than the actual ABA instruction.  I loved the challenge of trying to connect with them. 
            One day, while speaking with another therapist, I was introduced to Floortime, which consists of following the child’s lead, and opening and closing circles of communication.  This was what I had been doing with the kids during our short breaks!  I just didn’t know it had a name. 
            Inspired, I quickly read both of Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s books, “Engaging Autism”, and “The Child with Special Needs.”  I started to experiment my newly learned techniques with one child in particular, a two year old named George.  My task was to find what he was interested in, join him, and then playfully, but strategically, obstruct his play. 
            George spent a lot of time rolling a Thomas train back and forth on the floor.  I joined him and rolled my own train back and forth.  After a little while, I made my train crash into his, which caught his attention and made him move the train to the side.  This was good! He was reacting to me.  I did this for a while, and then decided it was time to move in: I placed a small doll on his train. 
            He took the toy off, of course, but then I pretended that the doll was crying hysterically.  He looked at me like I was crazy. 
            Wait a minute.  What did he just do?  He looked at me! Success!
            So I quickly put the doll back on.  He took it off, I cried, and he looked at me again, with a little smile.  This was turning into a game. I was elated.
            The game continued, and over time, I tried new things as he reacted to my shenanigans.  He would move the train further away, and my doll would run after the train, which ended up in me chasing him around the room with the doll. 
            Our game stretched out for longer periods of time, and morphed into different things.  For up to 10 minutes at a time, George played with me like a typically developing two year old.  Some days it would be harder to draw him out of his world and pull him into a shared world with me, but persistence is the key.
            Extending the interactions with your child and adding new ideas to the play is the heart of Floortime.  It’s fun and challenging at the same time, because you have to think on your feet and be creative.  However, as a parent, you know your child best, so it might come easier to you than for me.  The best part is that it can be done anywhere at anytime, which I believe makes the difficult role of acting both as parent and therapist much easier to fulfill. 
            Some parents swear by ABA, and perhaps that’s what works best for their child.  As we know, not every child with autism is the same, and what works for one may not work for another.  However, I encourage you to give the Floortime approach a chance.  If it doesn’t work, at least you will have spent some quality time playing with your child, and there’s definitely no harm in that at all.

For more on Cindy Tovar, M.S.Ed. please visit Dagny's Dichotomy

The Through the Looking Glass series will feature blog posts written by parents, relatives, siblings, service providers, special education teachers and therapists of children/adults with Autism.        

If you would like to be considered, please email me at with your name, connection to Autism, contact information and a writing sample or link to writing sample.

Please allow 5 to 10 days for review. Once accepted, you may write on any topic  - as long as it relates to Autism. Word count: 500 - 650


  1. Very informative and well written. Interesting and a good read :-)

  2. This reminds me of an autistic man who suggested parents to figure out ways to make learning fun... this always works, my son is such a jokster.


AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.