How DIR® Supports the Learning Environment

Principles of Early Learning  |  Best Practice In Autism Intervention  |  Our Curriculum  |  Developmental Language Models  |  Student Supports

How DIR® Strategies and Thinking Support Communication, Language Development and Learning:

Contemporary Developmental Language Models give us an understanding of how language typically develops, and therefore provides an essential developmental roadmap for supporting children with language disorders. DIR® thinking about child development as a whole and DIR® strategies provide further support when intervening with a child that has language challenges and difficulties in relating and communicating.

Why follow a child’s lead? That is our ultimate goal for entering their shared world – to help hem be empathetic, creative, logical, reflective individuals. — Stanley Greenspan, M.D.

The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based (DIR®/Floortime™) model is a framework for assessment and intervention for children with Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other challenges of relating and communicating.

The “D” (Development) identifies the child’s developmental level of emotional and intellectual functioning. It is our road map to understanding a child’s overall developmental level. Where does the child exhibit constrictions in their development? What are their strengths? Where are their challenges?

The “I” (Individualized) determines the individual’s way of reacting to and comprehending movement, sounds, sights and other sensations. It is our guide to supporting each child’s unique capacities and challenges. How does the visual-spatial system of a child impact their ability for eye gaze and complex referential gaze? How does the reactivity of one’s sensory system impact their ability to remain calm and available for shared attention? How does the motor planning capacity of a child impact the ability to understand the rhythm and timing of communicative exchanges?

Individual Differences and How Those Differences Impact Language

  1. Sensory Reactivity
    • Over-reactivity – When a student is over-responsive to their environment, there is a direct and negative impact on their ability to be calm, attentive to input and ready to learn. Students whose nervous systems over-respond to input are unavailable to comprehend their world, make meaning in activities and express their intentions to others. Soaring Eagle Academy uses our understanding of a student’s individual regulatory capacity to better understand how their language will be impacted and to develop strategies, supports and interventions to remediate this challenge.
    • Under-reactivity – When a student is under-responsive to their environment, there is a direct and negative impact on their ability to be intentional as a communicator. Under-arousal leads to challenges in being able to act on the world. Further, under-reactivity impacts the student’s ability to sequence chains of interaction and communication, make meaning around activities and be attentive to auditory input. Motor planning, ideation and play are negatively impacted and affect the learning of the student. Soaring Eagle Academy uses our understanding of a student’s individual regulatory capacities to better understand how their language will be impacted and to develop strategies, supports and interventions to remediate this challenge.
      1. Auditory – Soaring Eagle Academy looks at each student’s capacity to respond to auditory input. Accommodations in the environment, adaptations within the relationships shared by the student and specific learning accommodations in the curriculum instruction are made to support the auditory capacities of each student.
      2. Visual – Soaring Eagle Academy looks at each student’s capacity to respond to visual input. Accommodations in the environment, adaptations within the relationships shared by the student and specific learning accommodations in the curriculum instruction are made to support the visual capacities of each student.
      3. Tactile – Soaring Eagle Academy looks at each student’s capacity to respond to tactile input. Accommodations in the environment, adaptations within the relationships shared by the student and specific learning accommodations in the curriculum instruction are made to support the tactile needs of each student.
      4. Vestibular – Soaring Eagle Academy looks at each student’s capacity to respond to vestibular input. Accommodations in the environment, adaptations within the relationships shared by the student and specific learning accommodations in the curriculum instruction are made to support the vestibular needs and sensitivities of each student.
      5. Proprioceptive – Soaring Eagle Academy looks at each student’s capacity to respond to proprioceptive input. Accommodations in the environment, adaptations within the relationships shared by the student and specific learning accommodations in the curriculum instruction are made to support the proprioceptive needs of each student.
  2. Motor Planning/Sequencing – When a student has challenges with motor planning capacities and sequencing, their ability to be intentional in their environment as both an active participant and a communicator are negatively impacted. Soaring Eagle Academy supports student’s capacities in motor planning throughout the entire school day by infusing activities, opportunities and strategies to support each student’s ability to become more intentional in their ideas, communication, play and learning.
  3. Motor Development – When a student has challenges in motor development, their ability to experience their environment as both an active participant and a communicator are negatively impacted. The way in which the student experiences and makes meaning around curricular material and daily interactions does not allow for a fully functional experience. Soaring Eagle Academy supports student’s capacities in motor development throughout the entire school day by infusing activities, opportunities and strategies to support each student’s ability to strengthen their motor capacities, core and tone. This enables them to experience the environment and learning more fully and to become more intentional in their ideas, communication, play and learning.
  4. Visual-Spatial Processing – When a student has challenges with visual-spatial processing capacities, their ability to understand their world, experience their environment or learning opportunities and move purposefully throughout their space is negatively impacted. The way in which a student visualizes and understands their spatial environment impacts their ability to attend, understand the learning materials and actively participate as an agent of their learning. Soaring Eagle Academy supports student’s capacities in visual-spatial processing throughout the entire school day by infusing activities within the curriculum that support integration of the visual and spatial capacities.

Visual-Spatial Processing Capabilities

(Referenced from the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders, Diagnostic Manual for Infancy and Early Childhood, Harry Wachs, O.D., Director of Vision and Conceptual Development Center, Washington, DC)

Body Awareness and Sense

  • Year 1: Purposeful, coordinated movement guided by vision and sound
  • Year 2: Purposeful movement for interactive play (rolling a ball back and forth)
  • Year 3: Awareness of body boundaries of self and others
  • Year 4: Awareness of body affecting others in space and time
  • Year 5: Awareness of body for coordinated actions

Location of the Body in Space

(Involves location of own body parts in relationship to each other, location of body as a whole in its immediate surroundings and location of the body in terms of the broader environment)

  • Year 1: Beginning movement in space
  • Year 2: Observes things move in space in relationship to self
  • Year 3: Purposeful movement in relations to other moving objects
  • Year 4: Planning and organization of movement prior to the action
  • Year 5: Becoming a team player

Relation of Objects to Self and Other Objects and People

  • Year 1: Reciprocal interactions with people and things
  • Year 2: Self-control in relation to other people and things
  • Year 3: Development of symbols
  • Year 4: Rules and expectations
  • Year 5: Boundaries and Membership

Conservation of Space

  • Year 1: Space is uni-dimensional
  • Year 2: Space is three-dimensional and movement in space is alterable
  • Year 3: Relationship of object in three-dimensional space
  • Year 4: Relationship of object to object in space
  • Year 5: Combining time and space

Visual Logical Reasoning

  • Year 1: Knowledge through sensory/motor action
  • Year 2: Moving from action knowledge to planning the actions
  • Year 3: Understanding the cause and effect of the action
  • Year 4: Stability of early visual-spatial thinking
  • Year 5: Logical thinking to solve problems

Representational Thought (Drawing, Thinking, Visualizing)

  • Year 1: Direct representation
  • Year 2: Words, pictures, gestures and toys
  • Year 3: Early imaginative play
  • Year 4: More purposeful representations
  • Year 5: Matching space to representational thought

The “R” (Relationship) is our guide to supporting development that occurs in the context of a socially and emotionally developing child. Taking the component parts or skills of language and working on those in isolated and discrete ways does little to develop robust linguistic systems. Why do we communicate? Why do we attempt to share our ideas and experiences with those important communicative partners around us? Language develops because we are all motivated to interact socially. We, as human beings, are driven to understand and develop our sense of self and of our communicative partners. We develop language and we communicate with others because we desire to become part of a social world and to make connections with others. Let us begin there.

At Soaring Eagle Academy, we support students in developing a sense of themselves and others within the community of our school. We support relationships and social interactions as the foundation of every academic interaction.

The DIR® Developmental Milestones (Dr. Stanley Greenspan and Dr. Serena Wieder)

  1. SHARED ATTENTION AND REGULATION: the child’s ability to take in sensory information and remain organized and attentive.
    • Use the child’s individual sensory and motor profile to draw him into shared attention.
    • Harness all the available senses, as well as motor capacities and affects (e.g. involve the child in interactions that involve vision, hearing, touch and movement, coupled with highly enjoyable activities).
    • Woo the child into interaction by joining their ideas and being playful in the joining.
    • Stretch the child’s capacity for shared attention by increasing interactive circles or communication rather than trying to get the child to focus on a particular object or toy.
  2. ENGAGEMENT: ability of the child to sustain mutual engagement with another individual while experiencing a broad range of emotions.
    • Follow the child’s lead in order to engage in interactions that bring pleasure and joy.
    • Build on these pleasurable interactions.
    • Join in the child’s rhythm in terms of affect, visual, auditory and motor movements.
    • Join with physical objects of the child’s pleasure.
    • Attempt to deepen the warmth and pleasure by giving priority to his or her comfort and closeness.
    • Use playful obstruction to entice him or her to focus on you.
  1. AFFECTIVE RECIPROCITY AND GESTURAL COMMUNICATION: the ability of the child to initiate and respond using circles of communication in a back and forth exchange that is driven by affect (intent).
    • Be very animated and attempt to exchange subtle facial expressions, sounds and other gestures.
    • Open and close circles of communication by building on natural interests.
    • Treat everything that the child does as purposeful and meaningful.
    • Encourage initiative by avoiding doing things for the child.
    • Support initiative by enticing the child to do things to you.
    • Over time build obstacles to increase the number of circles communicated in order for him/her to achieve his goal.
  2. COMPLEX PRE-SYMBOLIC SHARED SOCIAL COMMUNICATION AND PROBLEM SOLVING: the ability of the child to extend circles of communication by creating a continuous flow of circles. Problem solving abilities emerge at this level.
    • Create problem-solving opportunities for the child.
    • Lengthen chains of interaction to beyond 10 circles of communication in a row.
    • Support the beginning of symbolic play in the form of simple schemes and representational ideas.
  3. SYMBOLIC AND CREATIVE USE OF IDEAS, INCLUDING PRETENd PLAY AND PRAGMATIC LANGUAGE
    • Role play and puppet play
    • Use toys and dress up in pretend fashion (toy or costume is elevated to the level of an “idea”).
    • Themes of aggression and power will emerge.
    • Expand range of themes.
  4. LOGICAL AND ABSTRACT USE OF IDEAS AND THINKING, INCLUDING THE CAPACITY FOR EXPRESSING AND REFLECTING ON FEELINGS AND HAVING INSIGHTS INTO SELF AND OTHERS.
    • Ask why questions.
    • Ask for opinions.
    • Compare and contrast different points of view.
    • Ask the child to predict or put themselves in someone else’s position.
    • Reflect on feelings and ideas.

The DIR®/Floortime™ approach is intensive and comprehensive and involves family members, educators and therapists. It is based on recent developmental and neuroscience research that shows that the core deficits in ASD are related to compromised mastery of early stages of emotional interactions and underdeveloped pathways connecting different parts of the brain. The DIR®/Floortime™ approach creates opportunities for mastering the early stages of emotional interactions, at the same time helping different components of the mind to work together in order to build healthy foundations for relating, communicating and thinking. This, in turn, enables children to work on the core deficits that characterize ASD and make more progress than formerly thought possible in reading and responding to emotional signals, empathy and creative and reflective thinking.

Soaring Eagle Academy students are supported according to their sensory profile, individual strengths and challenges, and developmental level of emotional and intellectual functioning. Based on this knowledge, student’s individualized curriculum is generated by interaction of the student’s natural interests, the DIR®/Floortime™ Approach and Illinois Learning Standards Goals and Benchmarks. Soaring Eagle Academy’s philosophy of education is that all curriculums be experienced in the contextual environment in order to be meaningful and integrated with prior conceptual knowledge. Each student’s interests are honored within every learning opportunity. We are invested in wooing children into the process of learning.

Soaring Eagle Academy developed and adopted various curriculum components based on the importance of affect and experience in learning. Soaring Eagle Academy believes that children learn best when they are well regulated, able to share attention with their communicative partner and/or teacher and emotionally invested in the learning. When children are interested and emotionally invested in material, their capacity to be present for the experience and to be taught is heightened. Multi sensory experiences lead to meaningful learning which in turn creates better comprehension of material and regulation in children.

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