Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dr. Stanley Greenspan, Pioneer in Autism Therapy, Leaves Legacy and Lessons

I was sad to read today that Dr. Stanley Greenspan, the founder of "Floortime" and the Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-based model (DIR) approach to developmental therapy, had died.  His books, his lessons, and his therapeutic models will benefit children for generations to come.  If you haven't seen how children with autism do (or do not) learn, it would be easy to write off Dr. Greenspan's approach as simple "play therapy."

But the brilliance of Dr. Greenspan's model is in its apparent simplicity.  While some therapists, teachers, and parents will continue to debate the relative effectiveness of applied behabioral analysis (ABA) and DIR/Floortime, anyone who has met more than one person with autism knows that it is a wide spectrum.  As with any other learners, there is not one method that works equally well with all children with autism.

My daughter has received both ABA instruction and Floortime therapy (in fact, through Dr. Greenspan's office).  What has worked best for her has been a combination.  In lay terms, Dr. Greenspan's approach recognizes that a child cannot learn unless they are engaged in an activity.  So instead of forcing a child to do something he doesn't want to, the child gets to direct the activity.  For example, if the child shows interest in a ball, the therapist (or parent) can use that ball to initiate engagement.  Dr. Greenspan valued social skills, playdates, emotional awareness, and relationships -- helping children develop life skills while expanding their cognitive understanding.  He saw every child as a unique human being with feelings, needs, interests that could be leveraged to help them learn.

Whether you are interested in DIR/Floortime or want to learn about how children with autism learn, get Dr. Greenspan's book "Engaging Autism," co-authored by Serena Wieder.  In it, he writes: "Often we look for a way to reach a child – the magic key that will unlock the hidden door – when all the while the child is showing what he needs by his actions and the way he’s processing what comes his way....

"The child may have a disorder or a set of problems, but he is not the disorder. He is a human being with real feelings, real desires, and real wishes."

Read tributes to Dr. Greenspan.  For more information about DIR/Floortime, visit the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders at www.icdl.com/.  Mike Frandsen, who reports about autism for the DC Examiner, wrote a nice article about Dr. Greenspan.
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