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Floortime Play Therapy for Children with Autism

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Do you have a child with autism and are left wondering about effective therapy options? Floortime Play Therapy might be the answer. It is an engaging therapy that harnesses play to promote social, emotional, and cognitive development in children on the spectrum.

Follow along as we delve deep into this unique approach, its benefits, how it works, research supporting it and much more – all aimed at empowering you to make informed decisions for your child’s wellbeing.

Key Takeaways

  • Floortime Play Therapy is a play-based approach that helps children with autism develop social, emotional, and cognitive skills.
  • In this therapy, children lead the play sessions while parents or adults join in and support their interests and development.
  • Floortime therapy has been found to improve communication skills, emotional development, and daily living skills (Liao et al. 2014). It also has found to reduce parent stress (Cheng, Smith & Butler, 2022).

What is Floortime Therapy?

Children playing with colorful toys on a carpeted floor surrounded by plants.

Floortime Therapy is a play-based approach that focuses on building relationships and promoting the child’s development, in particular for children with autism spectrum disorder (ICDL, n.d.).

Floortime is used by people who work with autistic children, including parents, teachers, speech therapists, and occupational therapists (ICDL, n.d.).

History of Floortime

In the 1980s, two child psychiatrists Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder created Floortime therapy. Since then, this type of play therapy has become popular among autistic kids and their parents all over the world.

Basics of Floortime Therapy

Floortime therapy is a specific type of play therapy for autistic kids and children with developmental and learning disorders. It helps a child’s development through the reciprocal relationship with the adult, often their parent, educator, or therapist (Cullinane, 2023).

It can be used as an early intervention for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. It considers developmental differences in children and aims to work on individual differences and on the child’s current developmental stage.

Different from behavioral interventions, Floortime therapy is focused on relationship building and following the child’s lead (Cullinane, 2023). A parent or adult will play with the child at their level, and let them lead the game. Sharing joy and having fun with the child is key in Floortime therapy. The goal of each session can be different but usually aims to help a child learn new things while doing what they enjoy most.

Important Concepts in Floortime Therapy

A playful and vibrant toy-filled room with a view of a garden.

Floortime therapy is about play. Kids learn best while playing. In Floortime, kids lead the games and parents follow. This way, kids build on what they know and love. We call this “following the child’s lead”.

Parents join in with their kid’s games to help them grow skills like talking and problem-solving. They watch for when their kid wants to make contact or share a feeling. The goal is to create an emotional connection pre school children during these moments of shared fun (Cullinane, 2023).

Through this process of building trust, Floortime helps kids reach new developmental milestones of social communication, and motor skills through active play and focuses on a child’s interests, not just learning specific tasks.

Benefits of Floortime Therapy for Children with Autism

Colorful mosaic puzzle pieces create an abstract and mesmerizing composition.

Floortime therapy offers a range of benefits for children with autism, including improved communication skills, building relationships and social skills, enhancing emotional development, promoting cognitive and problem-solving abilities, and encouraging independent thinking and creativity.

Improved communication skills

Floortime therapy is an effective approach to help children with autism improve their communication skills. Through engaging play and interaction, children learn to express their wants and needs.

Research has shown that floortime therapy can lead to significant improvement in verbal and non-verbal communication abilities of children on the autism spectrum (Cheng et al., 2022). This means that your autistic child, may become more confident in expressing their thoughts, feelings, and needs, which can greatly enhance their social interactions and overall quality of life.

Building relationships and social skills

Floortime therapy is a great way to help children with autism build relationships and improve their social skills. Through play and interaction, this therapy focuses on developing strong connections between the child and their caregiver.

It emphasizes the importance of trust and building a positive relationship as the foundation for learning and growth. By engaging in fun activities together, children can learn how to communicate better, share their feelings, and understand others’ emotions.

Floortime helps children develop important social-emotional skills that are crucial for forming friendships and navigating social situations .

Enhancing emotional development

Floortime therapy is a great way to enhance emotional development in children with autism. Through play and interaction, this therapy model focuses on building emotional skills in children.

By engaging in activities that support emotional growth, such as creating an emotional connection and encouraging self-expression, Floortime therapy helps children with autism develop important emotional skills that are essential for their overall well-being.

Promoting cognitive and problem-solving abilities

Floortime therapy can help promote cognitive and problem-solving abilities in children with autism. Through engaging play activities and following the child’s lead, this therapy focuses on encouraging your child to problem-solve the play situations, rather than the parent jumping in to solve it for them.

By following the child’s lead and encouraging independent thinking, Floortime allows children to explore their interests and learn problem-solving strategies. This can lead to improvements in logical reasoning, decision-making, and creative thinking.

With the support of trained therapists, children can build their cognitive abilities while having fun during play sessions.

Encouraging independent thinking and creativity

Floortime therapy is a great way to encourage independent thinking and creativity in children with autism. By allowing the child to take the lead during play sessions, they are given the freedom to explore their own ideas and make their own choices.

This not only helps them develop problem-solving skills but also boosts their confidence and self-esteem. Floortime therapy supports children in expressing themselves creatively, whether it’s through pretend play, building projects, or artistic activities.

It focuses on nurturing their unique strengths and interests, which promotes independent thinking and fosters a sense of creativity in children with autism.

How Floortime Therapy Works

Floortime therapy works through a play-based approach, where individualized and child-led sessions are used to engage children with autism in collaborative and interactive activities.

Play-based approach

Floortime therapy follows a play-based approach when working with children with autism. Instead of traditional therapy settings, developmental approaches such as behavior interventions, this approach involves parents and therapists engaging in interactive play sessions with the child.

This play allows the child to take the lead and explore their interests, while also developing important skills and abilities. By focusing on their individual strengths, floortime helps children with autism build relationships, improve communication skills, boost problem-solving abilities, enhance social emotional development, and promote independent thinking.

Individualized and child-led sessions

In floortime therapy, sessions are tailored to meet the unique needs and interests of each child. This means that the therapist takes into account the individual strengths and developmental challenges of your child with autism.

The sessions are also child-led, which means that your child gets to take the lead in play activities while the therapist follows their lead and joins in on their level. This approach allows your child to feel empowered and engaged, promoting their social interaction skills, creativity, and problem-solving abilities.

By focusing on your child’s specific needs and interests, Floortime therapy provides a personalized and effective way to help them grow and develop.

Collaborative and interactive sessions

In Floortime therapy, one of the key components is having collaborative and interactive sessions. These sessions involve parents or caregivers actively engaging with their child in play.

The goal is to create a supportive and nurturing environment where the child feels comfortable expressing themselves. During these sessions, parents join in on the child’s play and follow their lead, allowing them to explore their interests and strengths.

This helps build a strong bond between parent and child while also promoting social, emotional, and communication skills. Through this approach, children with autism can develop at their own pace and learn important skills that will benefit them in everyday life.

Is there any research to support Floortime?

There is some information supporting evidence based practice for Floortime.

There are some randomized controlled trial studies that identified improvements in autistic children who used Floortime, compared to behavioral approaches like Applied Behavior Analysis (ICDL, n.d.).

Floortime therapy has been found to improve communication skills, emotional development, and daily living skills (Liao et al. 2014). It also has found to reduce parent stress (Cheng, Smith & Butler, 2022).

Difference between DIR Floortime and ABA therapy

Understanding the differences between DIR Floortime and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is crucial to selecting the most appropriate intervention for your child.

  • The first key difference is the role of the child. Floortime is a child-led approach to therapy, meaning the child guides the direction of each session. Conversely, ABA is therapist-led, with the therapist setting the goals and the structure of each session.
  • Secondly, the environment and style of the interventions differ. Floortime typically involves interactive play with the child leading the activities. On the other hand, ABA often focuses on structured teaching techniques in a more formal setting.
  • Thirdly, the focus of each approach is different. While Floortime is relationship-based, concentrating on social, communication, and emotional skills, ABA zeroes in on behavior modification, aiming to reduce undesirable behaviors and increase positive ones.
  • Furthermore, Floortime emphasizes emotional connection and development. It encourages children to engage in shared social interactions and build meaningful relationships. In contrast, ABA focuses on modifying behaviors, using rewards and reinforcements to encourage desired actions.
  • Lastly, the methods used in Floortime and ABA vary. Floortime promotes development and interaction through playful activities, while ABA breaks down tasks into smaller steps and provides rewards for desired behaviors.

Overall, the choice between these therapies should be based on your child’s needs and preferences.

Is DIR Floortime therapy right for my child?

  • Floortime therapy can be beneficial for children with autism spectrum disorders.
  • It focuses on building relationships and communication skills through play-based interactions.
  • DIR/Floortime therapy is not diagnosis-specific and can be used for children with various developmental needs.
  • Research shows that Floortime has led to significant improvements in communication, emotional functioning, and daily living skills of children with autism.
  • Consider discussing the potential benefits of Floortime therapy with your child’s healthcare provider or occupational therapist.

Where do I find a Floortime provider?

To find a Floortime provider for your child, you can:

– Search online for DIR/Floortime providers in your state/country

– Contact local occupational therapists or speech therapists to see who may offer Floortime services.

Reach out to autism support groups or organizations in your area to ask for recommendations.

Ask your child’s pediatrician or developmental pediatrician if they know of any Floortime providers in the area.

Remember, it’s important to find a provider who specializes in working with children with autism and has experience with Floortime therapy.


In conclusion, Floortime play therapy is a valuable approach for children with autism to develop important skills. Through interactive play sessions led by the child, Floortime promotes communication, socialization, and emotional growth.

Research has shown its effectiveness in supporting the overall development and well-being of children on the autism spectrum. If you’re considering this therapy for your child, it’s worth exploring as part of their intervention plan alongside other therapeutic approaches.

Seek out qualified providers who specialize in Floortime to give your child the best support possible.


1. What is Floortime Play Therapy for children with autism?

Floortime Play therapy is a type of early intervention used to promote development in preschool children diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders.

2. How does Floortime Play Therapy work?

It’s a relationship-based model built around the child’s interests and activities; it helps improve self-regulation, social-emotional connections, logical thinking and play skills among young adults by opening and closing circles of communication

3. Is Floortime therapy proven to help children?

Yes, various studies have shown how Floortime can benefit autistic children in their general development, social and communication, and daily living skills.

4. Does this play therapy work better than other therapies?

There is varying evidence supporting Floortime compared to traditional behavior interventions. It is hard to determine the efficacy of this play therapy as each adult may use it differently with the child. Further studies are needed to determine the efficacy of this play therapy.

5. Can parents implement Floortime at home?

Absolutely! It’s encouraged for parents to take part in parent training programs that guide them on how they can engage in Floortime with their children.

6. Do professionals use Floortime Therapy across all age groups?

Indeed! This approach has found effective outcomes not only among preschool kids but also among older kids. It is used in occupational therapy and speech therapy sessions.

7. Where can I find more information about Floortime?

Check out ICDL’s website or read the book Engaging Autism.


Autism Speaks. (n.d.). What is Floortime.,and%20issues%20in%20the%201980s.

Cheng, W.M., Smith, T.B., Butler, al. Effects of Parent-Implemented Interventions on Outcomes of Children with Autism: A Meta-Analysis. J Autism Dev Disord (2022).

Cullinane, D. (2023). Evidence base for the DIRFloortime Approach.

ICDL. (n.d.) What is Floortime.

ICDL. (n.d.) DIR is Evidence Based.

Liao ST, Hwang YS, Chen YJ, Lee P, Chen SJ, Lin LY. Home-based DIR/Floortime intervention program for preschool children with autism spectrum disorders: preliminary findings. Phys Occup Ther Pediatr. 2014 Nov;34(4):356-67. doi: 10.3109/01942638.2014.918074. Epub 2014 May 27. PMID: 24865120.

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