This new blog post is written by Melanie Feller, M.A., CCC-SLP. Melanie is a Speech and Language Pathologist and DIRFloortime practitioner. Her post discusses some differences between ABA and DIR via a the parent perspective. If you have have questions or would like to express suggestion or thoughts, please do so here and/or email Melanie.
Parents: A Developmental Perspective
As music therapists and as speech therapists (and as many other types of therapeutic practitioners) we frequently find ourselves meeting concerned parents. Perhaps the parent who is concerned about their child’s overall development or the parent who is worried that they don’t know how to help their child. Perhaps the parent who feels like they have no relationship with their child. Sometimes we may be the first step, when the parent has heard about the benefits of DIRFloortime, and sometimes we may be the last, when the parent decides that ABA simply isn’t working. But either way, we frequently meet a parent who shares they feel a bit (or very) overwhelmed, and they don’t really feel like they have the tools with which to support their child.
Behavioral therapy suggests leaving the parent out of the equation (and many parents will attest to this – i.e. therapy taking place behind closed doors, parental involvement eschewed) unless it is to train the parent on how to follow through on ABA principles taught in session. Following directions and using scripted words to request are frequent goals. Compliance and “fitting in” are paramount.
Therapy from a developmental perspective however suggests this behavioral focus is misplaced.
The DIRFloortime perspective is one that places great emphasis on the relationship between parent and child, with specific focus on each and every individual difference. This focus allows us to understand each child and parent as unique individuals, and enables us to look at families and children from a strength based perspective, instead of one of deficit. This focus allows us to support, never “fix.”
“We’re taking a developmental focus on family functioning because our interest is in infancy and early childhood and also childhood itself; so it’s natural to take a developmental focus.” (Greenspan, 2007)
A developmental focus stresses that families are the driving force behind the growth and development of their loved one with developmental challenges. This focus stresses the relationship with the parent, above virtually all else.
We know a developmental perspective works. We know it is child and family friendly. We know it is cost-effective. We know that the body of evidence behind DIRFloortime continues to grow. And more than anything, we know that it is respectful of both parent and child.
“Just as parents of typically developing children are their first and most profoundly effective teachers, parents of children with developmental, communicative, and relational disorders are as well.” (Shahmoon-Shanok, ICDL Clinical Practice Guidelines Chapter 14).
Knowing this, it is then our obligation to support the parents and families we work with. It is our obligation to offer the parent the tools they need to feel more competent, more able, and more secure. These tools could include supporting the parent in understanding how to meet their child where the child is, and how to gently join in, and perhaps gently bring that child, slowly, bit-by-bit, into a shared world. Perhaps how to woo their child into an affective engagement, through tickles or a gentle back and forth non-verbal exchange, or through a game of spinning an object together.
Through such tools we strive to foster the parent/child relationship. We strive to empower, to support, and to educate. We remind the parent that they know their child best of all. Because we know that the crux of real support, the crux of warm, affective relationships, and the crux of respectful, effective therapy lies not within ourselves as therapists, but within the parent.
Melanie Feller, M.A., CCC-SLP, DIRFloortime Certified