Snake Oil? I Hope Not. — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

Snake Oil? I Hope Not.

by Deborah


Last week, an article titled “Reaching An Autistic Teen” appeared in the New York Times. As the mother of a 16 year old diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, my interest was piqued. I made it through the long, multi-page article, and then re-read it two more times. And now, I would like your opinion.

The article told of a school in Decatur, Georgia. Community School is a small private school for teenaged boys with autism spectrum disorders. According to the article what makes Community School unusual is not its student body, but like only two dozen schools in the country, it employs a relatively new, creative and highly interactive teaching method know as D.I.R./Floortime. This new method is said to be producing striking results.

I googled D.I.R./Floortime, and found the website for the company. According to their website, ” The DIR (Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based)/Floortime approach provides a comprehensive framework for understanding and treating children challenged by autism spectrum and related disorders. It focuses on helping children master the building blocks of relating, communicating and thinking, rather than on symptoms alone.”

OK, still not a lot of information, really. I did a little more googling.

I found an article on the website which called the D.I.R. approach a breakthrough in autism treatment. To be honest, the Jenny McCarthy, “My Son Is Cured” thing has left me very skeptical. I hope this “breakthrough approach” will actually help and will stand the test of time.

I want to know more but am having a tough time finding more. And, I would like to know if any of the 5MFSN readers have heard of or participated in this teaching approach. If you read the articles I have linked, I would also like to know your impressions and opinions. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this is not just more snake oil….

Deborah can be found writing here at 5MFSN every Sunday and Wednesday, and can also be found at Pipecleaner Dreams.

Email Author    |    Website About Deborah

In addition to her job as a computer engineer and her single parent responsibilities, Deborah is president of a state-wide family support group for families whose lives are touched by deafblindness, and is a tireless advocate for all people with disabilities. She writes at Pipe Cleaner Dreams and her writing has also been featured in local magazines and newspapers. Ashley’s story has also been chronicled in a book by Jonathan Mooney titled Short Bus Stories.

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1 Alicia October 29, 2008 at 4:33 pm

I know this is going to sound nit-picky, but I just wanted to point out that I think it’s Jenny McCarthy. Or maybe they’ve both claimed it!

2 Deborah October 29, 2008 at 6:45 pm

Alicia, thank you! I was thinking Jenny McCarthy but that’s not what came through my fingers 🙂 I’ve corrected the post!

3 Alicia October 29, 2008 at 6:55 pm

Well, and I completely forgot to comment on the article! Sounds intriguing. Even though my son only has SPD, I have to wonder if this would benefit him as well. I will research it further.

4 Katie October 29, 2008 at 7:46 pm

Since I have access to many databases through my college, I thought I’d poke around and see how exhaustively this approach has been investigated. I found a book linked here: and an article by the same authors that I can request through my library if you would like. There’s also a “brief report” comparing DIR with ABA in twins with autism. I can fiddle with keywords and try different databases if you’d like, but that’s what I turned up with a quick search. 🙂 Good luck, and let me know if I can help! It sounds like something I could use as a someday-professional as well. 🙂

5 Deborah October 29, 2008 at 8:28 pm

Wow, Katie! Thanks! Can the article you found through your library be emailed? If so, I would love to check it out. And the report comparing the twins sounds very intriquing. If you can find some articles and share them with me, I will also write a post and share the info with all our readers.

Thanks again!

6 Maddy October 29, 2008 at 10:24 pm

I’m surprised to hear that they’re using floortime or RDI with teenage asperger boys, but presumably it’s a modified version to make it age appropriate.

I used both when my boys were younger and non-verbal. It’s a good place to start for a newbie as long as you have the principles on board first. My ‘problem’ was that when I used either approach one on one with ONE boy, the other was left spinning his wheels.

It’s quite old hat now, not really a NEW breakthrough but it’s a half reasonable approach to make a start with. Try checking out RDI with Young Children by Steven E Butstein and Rachelle K Sheely published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. [expensive but a good introduction, especially if you can get it from the library as it walks you through the practical steps, more of a ‘how to guide.’]

7 Stacy October 30, 2008 at 12:53 am

I use principles from the Floortime approach with my kiddos, but I do early intervention (age 0-3), so its a bit different than thinking of using it with teenagers. The basic principle of Floortime is that you get down to the child’s level, and engage with, then expand upon, whatever they are interested in. If they’re jumping and spinning, you jump with them.
The book Engaging Autism by Stanley Greenspan is a good intro to Floortime/DIR, without billing it as a magic cure for autism.

8 Barbara October 30, 2008 at 7:45 am

Greenspan was an early proponent of floortime – if not the originator- ?

I kind of chuckle when I read that a name is given and a philosophy is coined on giving one-on-one attention to a child.

Perhaps it is just a pendulum-swing to the opposite side of ignoring a child who is different. Somewhere in the middle is the traditional and formerly-more-common family life where among several children each parent spent some time with each child individually.

Sorry. Thanks for this post, Deborah. Very good information.

9 Deborah October 30, 2008 at 8:33 am

Barbara, thanks for your comments. I’ve been struggling with formulating some thoughts on that very subject – applying labels to what most parents just do naturally. I’m often amazed that books get published on what I and my children do just in the normal course of our life. I don’t consider myself traditional in some very important aspects of my self and my life, but when it comes to raising my children, I am indeed a traditionalist. And that has worked very well – I’ve got 4 great soon-to-be-adult children!

10 Ecki October 30, 2008 at 10:54 am

Y’know, we’ve been doing the ABA route with my daughter (age 4 with Autism and Down syndrome) for almost two years now. And she HATES it. Fights it tooth and nail, no matter what the reinforcers. Or she’ll just point to anything on the table just to get the trial over with.

I hear how ABA is THE method to use with autism, but I’m honestly not seeing any improvement in my child. We’re still doing the SAME trials we were doing 2 years ago!

I’m really thinking when she goes into Kindy next year to look into a program that goes the Floortime route. I really think it depends on the temperament of the child in deciding which method to use. I’ll give the ABA route a little more time, but it pains me to see her so miserable during the ABA sessions.

11 WG October 30, 2008 at 11:38 am

You have to read the book The Child With Special Needs, Encouraging Intellectual and Emotional Growth. Greenspan will take you through the whole philosophy of Floortime and it’s a fascinating book anyway. My kid does not have autism but has profound dev delay due to a genetic syndrome. So my results may be atypical, but I have found Floortime to be the thing that has made the most difference, hands down. Most importantly, it’s given me the tools to better get inside my son’s head and understand his behavior. Check your library for the book.

12 Victoria October 30, 2008 at 7:23 pm

I agree with others, it’s not a ‘new’ treatment but I had never heard of it being used as the basis of working with teens. Although from a common sense approach, I try to incorporate my 12 yo son’s interests into his learning all the time.

13 Trish November 3, 2008 at 10:15 pm

Sorry to reply so late to this. My son has responded very well to Floortime, which is really the practical component to DIR (Dr. Greenberg’s way of looking at developmental stages). I learned a lot about how children develop social & emotionally from reading Emerging Autism (which is the updated version of The Child With Special Needs).

I had read that article and found the school to be fascinating – would love to see how those kids do as they move into higher education or the workforce.

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