August has been an exciting month. The new Floortime Manual is flying off the shelves, the International Greenspan Floortime Conference in Miami is filling up, and new insights into ASD and related disorders are continuously being discovered. August's Greenspan Floortime theme of "Challenging" fits nicely with one such insight. Recently in an article by Marilyn Wedge, PhD
the term "Virtual Autism" was used in reference to cases of "Autism" induced by the use of electronic screens. The small study from France referred to in the article is just one of many showing correlations and causations between ASD symptoms and screen time.
While we all know from our personal lives that screens can be addictive and can lead to anti-social behavior, the bigger issue is that children are losing out on valuable opportunities to engage in and benefit from the fun and "challenges" of social interaction. It is especially these challenging social moments that we are motivated to work through and are so formative early in life. Dr. Greenspan understood both sides: these experiences are supposed to be meaningful and fun while also being challenging. Spending time on screens can be challenging, in an academic sense, but the priority should be given to challenging children in a socially meaningful and interactive manner.
Dr Greenspan's Definition of Challenge:
An Excerpt from the newly published
The Floortime Manual™
...Sometimes children let us join in, sometimes they don’t. If they do, we can establish a trust with them quickly. We join their world and then gradually draw them out of their world and into ours by challenging them to interact with us. This is the second step. Once we have joined them and discovered what interests and motivates them (i.e. the first step), we can harness their interests and interaction to connect with them so we can eventually challenge them— creating an even more fun and engaging interaction around the activity or toy, adding in a very slight change to their agenda.
If a child is more avoidant or self-involved and doesn’t want to include us in the play at all, the challenge step may need to happen early on, as we mentioned in the discussion of Follow the Lead. In this situation we must create a challenge to entice the child to attend, engage and respond. The challenges should be developmentally appropriate so the child is motivated to respond to them and climbs the developmental ladder voluntarily.
The principles of challenging and then expanding are important because once we and the child start to interact, the activity has to become more interesting (subtly more challenging) as it progresses. It’s often up to us to ―without taking charge or directing the play...
....It’s crucial to try to expand every interaction, play scenario, and conversation with a child—gradually, each one, another and another and another. Expansion provides a child the opportunity to change repetitive play and behavior patterns, improve creativity, and become a more dynamic social problem solver. Expansion of activities and ideas is important for all children, but specially for a child who has the tendency to get stuck in repetitive or rigid thought patterns.
Expansion needs to be gradual. By gradually expanding the play and our interactions with a child, we can make subtle change into a fun and exciting experience. Too big of a change can upset a child...