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  Mike Frandsen, who reports about autism for the DC Examiner, wrote a nice article about Dr. Greenspan.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sec. Duncan Calls on Teachers to Raise Achievement of Special-Needs Students

Speaking to 6,000 special educators at the annual conference of the Council for Exceptional Children Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on teachers to improve the achievement levels of students with special needs.  He said that while we have made progress in expanding educational opportunities for all children, "a significant gap between our aspirations and reality" for students with disabilities. "The graduation rate, postsecondary education rate, and employment rate are all increasing, but they are still, frankly, far too low."

"Even in my lifetime, public schools virtually ignored children with disabilities. Many children were denied access to public schools, and those who attended didn't get the individualized instruction and appropriate services they needed and deserved.

"Over the past 35 years, we've made great strides in delivering on the promise of a free, appropriate public education for children with disabilities. Thanks to the advocacy and hard work of people and organizations like the Council for Exceptional Children, six million students with disabilities are in school—and millions of them are thriving.

"Yet unfortunately, many children with disabilities are not getting a world-class education. The President and I are committed to doing everything in our power to make that bedrock American promise of equal educational opportunity a reality. With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we have a historic opportunity to move closer to fulfilling that promise for all students."

Read his full remarks, "Keeping the Promise to All America's Children."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Back from a Break: Disabled Hockey Festival

I haven't updated this blog in a while, partly because my attention shifted last week to managing communications and another blog for the 6th Annual USA Hockey Disabled Festival in Laurel, Md. I've mentioned before that I volunteer with the American Special Hockey Association, which is similar to Special Olympics for ice hockey (because SO doesn't offer hockey) for people with developmental disabilities. But special hockey was just a part of the festival, which also included sled hockey, deaf and hearing-impaired hockey, and amputee hockey. The festival included several games with the USA Warriors, a program for wounded soldiers who are using hockey as part of their physical and emotional recovery.

Please read and share the festival blog, even with your friends who aren't hockey fans.  One of the best articles about the festival was from the local Gazette newspaper, which really explored the therapeutic benefits of hockey for children with autism, Down Syndrome, and ADHD. Read "Disabled Hockey Festival Ready to Score: Coaches, Parents Say Players Feel Part of Something Beyond a Disability."

Sled hockey

One of the USA Warriors, a double amputee who's an inspiration to his teammates and opponents.  Read about the Warriors, "The Warriors Way," from USA Hockey magazine.

Duff Goldman of "Ace of Cakes" on the Food Network, designed and delivered a special cake for the festival. While he was there, he asked to try out sled hockey and got to play alongside members of the USA Sled Hockey Team, which just won the gold medal in the Paralympics in Vancouver.  A future episode of the "Ace of Cakes" will feature his participation.

To learn more about special hockey, visit us at, follow us on Twitter at, or visit

Friday, April 2, 2010

Puppy "Not a Pet, but a Friend" to Twins with Autism

As Autism Awareness Month begins, take a look at this touching story about how a dog is helping twins with autism.

Disability Scoop

Special Ed News (Education Week)

Special Education Law