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The late Stanley Greenspan, M.D., who was a child psychiatrist, is known for his approach to treating children with autism and other developmental disorders. His method centres on social interactions, while taking into account underlying sensory issues. The DIR® model is based on the thesis that effective interaction through a warm, safe and nurturing relationship can harness, through Floortime, cognitive and emotional growth, mobilizing the child’s developmental capacities.

Greenspan encouraged the D.I.R. (Developmental, Individual-difference, Relationship-based) Model or Developmental Approach to therapy. The heart of this approach to therapy is a systematic way of working with children to help them climb the developmental ladder. D.I.R. takes children back to the very first milestone they may have missed and begins the developmental progress anew.

The six core “Functional Emotional Developmental Capacities (milestones)” are:

  • self regulation and interest in the world
  • engagement and relating
  • purposeful communication
  • complex communication & social problem solving
  • emotional ideas
  • logical thinking

Greenspan’s method includes an observation chart wherein the parent can assess, through observation, where the child stands on the development ladder and which milestones in particular need strengthening.

By working intensively with parents and therapists, children can climb the ladder of milestones to acquire the skills they are missing. It can be implemented as a procedure and as a philosophy. Most importantly, this method can be used at home, in school, and as a part of a child’s different therapies.

Part of the DIR® method uses “Floortime”, for an intensive 20 to 30 minute period, where the parents get down on the floor with their child one-on-one to interact and play in a spontaneous and fun manner. By interacting in ways that capitalize on children’s emotions – by following their interests and motivations – parents help them climb the developmental ladder by presenting challenges tailored to the child’s individual differences and developmental level. This will help capture the child’s natural motivation to learn to attend, engage in dialogue, take initiative, learn about causality and logic, and solve problems. The parent becomes the child’s very active play partner, whose job it is to follow the child’s lead and play at whatever captures his/her interest. This is done by encouraging interaction through presenting challenges and expanding the play. For instance , if the child wants to build with blocks, the parent can begin by adding blocks to the tower with him/her, then by holding up the block the child needs to build the tower so the child has to indicate verbally or non-verbally that (s)he wants the block, and even build a new tower next to the child’s or putting a pencil or stuffed animal, or something silly on the tower instead of a block to expand the play.

For more information, please visit the Interdisciplinary Council on Learning website or affectautism.com.

DIR® One-Page Fact Sheets:

What is DIR/Floortime?  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4eYdf4hpBzyRGt4TEJLUmQza0U/edit

Redefining Autism: The DIR® Model and DIR/Floortime® https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4eYdf4hpBzyUWwxN1M1eWRFV0k/edit

DIR® and DIR/Floortime® Evidence-Based Quick Facts https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4eYdf4hpBzyRzNObXpzSGZjX0k/edit

DIR® and DIR/Floortime® are Registered Trademarks of ICDL, Inc.


Autism Canada does not endorse treatments, interventions and therapies but lists them so people can make informed choice.  This site is for information purposes only and is a starting point for readers to look into options that may fit or resonate.  Remember, therapies for autism, like any condition, should be discussed with a trusted medical practitioner or certified therapist before use.

All information, data and material contained, presented or provided here is for general information purposes only and is not to be construed as reflecting the knowledge or opinions of Autism Canada, or as providing legal or medical advice. All treatment decisions should be made by the individual in consultation with a licensed health care provider.

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