Floortime vs. ABA: Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder

If you’re looking for an effective way to help your child develop social skills and reduce problematic behavior, you may want to try ABA therapy in Arlington Heights and watch them flourish. If you’re not familiar with ASD, let’s explain it first.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects a person’s behavioral patterns and communication. There is a wide range of signs that might put an individual on the spectrum. Those with autism tend to have difficulty interacting with others, and they often exhibit limited interests and repetitive behaviors that might interrupt or delay their ability to function properly in everyday life.

A person can get diagnosed with ASD at any age, but symptoms can first be observed in the first year. Some children start developing as usual and then go through a period of regression between 18 and 24 months.

Self-stimulatory (otherwise known as stimming) behaviors, such as rocking, running back and forth, spinning, hand flapping, as well as repetitive motions like turning wheels, flipping levers, shaking sticks, and staring at lights or spinning objects, are possible early indicators of ASD. Autistic children also display ritualistic behaviors, are highly resistant to change, and like to adhere to a routine.

ASD is an issue with the development of the brain, but there is currently no recognized cause. Research suggests that autism might be a combination of genetic and nongenetic predispositions and environmental influences. There is no known cure, but there are therapies proven effective in improving a child’s ability to be a highly functioning and skilled adult.

What Is ABA?

ABA or applied behavior analysis (behavioral engineering) is a technique based on the research of psychologist and behavioral scientist B. F. Skinner. It is an empirical approach that uses operant conditioning (a method of learning through reinforcement of rewards and punishments) to shape behavior, teach motor, social, and verbal behaviors, and reasoning skills. The aim is to modify habits and help an individual become a fully functioning adult.

ABA was not originally intended as a treatment for autism, but it became accepted as a treatment after a 1987 study by Ivar Lovaas noted the success of 19 autistic students, who all showed significant improvements after years of application.

The treatment is often conducted in a clinical setting. It can also take place in settings that reflect the individual’s natural environment. This ensures the behavior stays fixed outside of treatment and doesn’t go away in time. It is best to have consistent staff and the opportunity to practice new skills with other children and individuals.

ABA training is most effective if it begins when children are still young (up to the age of five), but older children with ASD can benefit from it too.

What Is Floortime?

Floortime is a safe and active therapy for ASD developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan in 1979. This technique uses play and joyful interactions to encourage learning and developmental progress via a “hierarchy of milestones.” These are used like steps of a ladder to raise functional ability and fortify practical cognitive, behavioral, and social skills. Teachers, coaches, parents, and practitioners will, literally and figuratively, get to a child’s level, on the floor, sharing the full experience to encourage communication.

Floortime has become extremely popular in helping children with ASD.

Stages of Floortime

Here are the stages of Floortime therapy:

  1. Observation — Watching and listening to a child for tone of voice, key facial expressions, body posture, eye contact, gestures, and communication and verbiage (or lack thereof). These are important clues that help you determine how to continue your approach.
  2. Open circles of communication — When a child is observed and assessed, you can approach the child with the gestures and words to open a circle of communication by acknowledging emotional tone and building on whichever interests the child exhibits.
  3. Purposeful two-way communication — This step involves following a child’s lead as they start a dialogue with the adult or practitioners, opening and closing communication; achieved by being a supportive play partner or a kind of “assistant” that allows the child to dictate the tone and direction of the conversation. A continuous verbal or nonverbal back-and-forth is the goal of this stage and is meant to encourage human interactions, self-esteem, and assertiveness.
  4. Extend and expand play — This stage involves making supportive comments and asking questions to stimulate emotions, creativity, and thinking, without being interruptive, forward, or offensive. A child should use that positive encouragement to define and determine the next direction of play.
  5. Child closing the circle of communication (symbolic play stage) — The adult is the one that starts the circle of communication when approaching the child with comments and gestures. The child then closes the circle with their personal responses. Eventually, the goal is a flow of communication where many circles may be opened and closed in succession. Here, the child begins to truly appreciate and understand the value and purpose of two-way communication.
  6. Logical thinking and bridging ideas — During this stage, the child becomes more verbal, though they might still use gestures to express themselves. Here, all practices are tied together to begin to grasp the concepts of space and time. They can now link emotions to actions and their consequences. They can answer what, when, and why questions, enjoy conversations, logically articulate an opinion, and appreciate a higher level of abstract thinking.

What Is DIR?

DIR is the Developmental, Individual Difference, & Relationship-based model. It provides a foundation for understanding human development through respectful relationships and emotional connections and engagements. It enables parents, clinicians, and educators to create a program that’s custom-made with regard to the child’s unique strengths and challenges.

DIR is based on the concept that natural emotions and interests are essential for learning and enable different parts of the brain to collaborate and build higher levels of intellectual capacities. Exercises may involve a team collaboration of occupational and speech therapy, various educational programs, and mental health intervention.

Floortime is the practical application of the DIR model, i.e., putting it into practice. It has become particularly effective in creating programs for children struggling with developmental delays due to ASD and other developmental disorders.

Here’s what DIR stands for:

  • D is for development. Understanding the unique process to maximize individual growth.
  • I describe the unique ways each individual comprehends the world around them.
  • R explains how relationships affect our lives as social beings.

Comparisons and Critiques

So who wins the DIR Floortime vs. ABA debate? Floortime is a child-led approach, often taking place in a home, an educational or clinical setting, and/or a playdate for a holistic environment. Play is prompted by whatever objects or toys interest the child. ABA services are therapist-led, usually in a clinic. Both are utilized to encourage positive behaviors and discourage harmful or distracting ones in persons with ASD.

Floortime is beneficial because it can be led by anyone who learns the method. ABA requires a professionally trained and certified therapist.

ABA is formulaic and focuses more on outcomes and results. It is criticized for being “robotic,” but it has concrete measures of efficiency. Floortime has been described as customized and comfortable and is often preferred for people who need to work on improving the awareness of their emotional states and become better at regulating them. Both are effective and can even be used together with Pivotal Response Treatment.

PRT uses the principles of ABA along with a laid-back approach of Floortime, allowing the child to lead but using rewards to encourage desirable behaviors.

In other words, both approaches can be highly beneficial. Ultimately, it all comes down to how a specific person responds to each.

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