We first heard of Dr. Stanley Greenspan and his work through another parent who had seen some success using his DIR/floortime methodology with their autistic child. I read his book: The Child With Special Needs, which led to our appointment for a floortime training session with Emma. We drove to Bethesda, checked into the hotel, took Emma swimming and hoped we might all get a good night’s sleep for what we guessed would be an exhausting day. In preparation for the meeting, Richard and I watched some of Stanley’s training videos. We felt we had a vague idea of what was expected of us. Whether we would be able to engage and interact with Emma in the DIR way or not, we were not so sure.
So it was with some trepidation that we were ushered into Stanley’s office – a small dingy room with some toys, a few broken, Stanley’s desk and piles of papers and books. Stanley asked us a number of questions, all the while watching Emma intently. “Okay. Mom, why don’t we start with you?” He said, still watching Emma.
“Hey Emma!” I said, huge smile, high affect. “What should we play with?!”
Emma ignored me and wandered over to the couch where Richard was sitting. I ran over to her, tried again to engage her, “What do you want to do? Do you want to play with this,” I asked, thrusting an armless doll at her.
The office was hot. I could feel perspiration beading on my upper lip. After about twenty minutes Stanley said, “Okay Mom. That’s fine. Now I need you to take that energy and up it by about 100%.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” I exclaimed.
Stanley smiled at me, “You have a nice connection with her. “
As he spoke, Emma was busy trying to open the door to leave the office. I tried to pull her away. “No, no Emmy, we can’t leave yet, “ I said.
Emma resisted me and continued to turn the door’s handle.
“Em, it’s not time to go yet. We have to stay here,” I said, pulling on her arm to come with me.
“Block her! What will she do if you put yourself in the way?” Stanley asked.
I wedged my body between the door and Emma.
Emma tried to reach around me.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
Emma tried to push me out of her way.
“Oh! You want me to move?”
“Don’t make it so easy for her. Make her tell you what she wants!” Stanley coached.
“Emma, what do you want?” I asked, sure that this was leading to a melt down.
“Open it!” Emma said.
Richard and I gasped. WOW! We hadn’t heard Emma say that since she was 13 months old.
Stanley was brilliant. Keenly observant, unfailing in his critique, he encouraged us to follow Emma into her world. To interact with her, “playfully obstruct”, “entice her”, were a few of the things he encouraged us to do. “The worst thing you can do is nothing at all,” he said, as our session came to a close.
When we returned home his insight and words stayed with us. We enrolled Emma in the Rebecca School in New York, which uses the Greenspan DIR approach. It is the only school in New York City using this model. Richard and I undertook additional floortime training sessions at the Rebecca school and hired their DIR training specialist to work with us at home. Alex trained Emma’s therapist, Joe as well. Hence the “Zen Master of DIR” label in the last post.
Dr. Greenspan had a consulting relationship with the Rebecca School and we were privileged to have two sessions with him over the last three years. The entire school faculty was in attendance and Stanley was conferenced in by telephone. Richard and I began each session by updating everyone on Emma’s home life, her progress and problems and our questions on what we could do to help her. This was followed by her teachers’ review of how Emma was doing at school. Whenever they addressed an area of difficulty, such as Emma’s self-injurious behaviors like biting herself, instead of giving his recommendations immediately, he asked the faculty for their ideas. He listened patiently and then offered his own suggestions, which were always so intelligent and insightful that Richard and I would look at each other with an expression of awe – and gratitude.
Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s ideas and methodology changed everything for us. His belief in the intelligence and abilities of each and every child were a profound change from the kind of rote “training” we had heard and received in the past. To say that his presence and guidance in our lives will be missed is a vast understatement. It is a great loss for us and for all the parents and children who will never have the opportunity to experience his keen analysis and problem solving ability on an individual basis. Yet his legacy will live on through his books and videotapes, his DIR Support Services under the brilliant stewardship of his son Jake, a floortime genius in his own right – and with schools like Rebecca School, which have adopted his teachings as their principle therapeutic model, helping countless autistic children and their families like ours move forward one day at a time.
For more information on Stanley Greenspan and his work with Autism read: Engaging Autism & The Child With Special Needs and go to his web site: www.stanleygreenspan.com