There are so many treatment options for children on the autism spectrum, it can be really confusing for parents. Different programs may sound like the same thing, other programs have trademarks, or they’re proprietary, or they’ve been developed in one location and not available elsewhere.
What’s the difference? Is there one best treatment? Can differentprograms be used together? In the end, it all comes down to one question: how do you figure out the best treatment for your own child?
In the interest of sorting this out, I try to provide specific information when I can find an expert who is really knowledgeable about a specific treatment program. For example, you can see an earlier interview on DIR/Floortime. One option that you may have heard of is P.L.A.Y. Project®. Today I’m taking to Joanne Finn, a Licensed Educational Psychologist, who also provides private services as a home consultant for families of children with an autism spectrum disorder through the P.L.A.Y Project®.
Joanne, Can you explain the P.L.A.Y. Project®?
P.L.A.Y Project® was started by Dr. Rick Solomon, a developmental pediatrician, who wanted to develop an affordable, family-friendly and effective early intervention program for children with autism spectrum disorders ages 18 months to seven years. P.L.A.Y Project is an international program with home consultants serving families in 27 states and 3 countries outside of the U.S. The program focuses on helping parents to help their children build emotional connections and engage in meaningful relationships.
As a school psychologist, I became interested in finding more ways to support parents who really wanted to help their children at home. A friend introduced me to DIR®/Floortime™ and I was excited to find the P.L.A.Y. Project model of home consultation. I recently became a licensed provider for P.L.A.Y. and I am so happy to be able to provide this to parents. What I really love about being a PLAY home consultant is working with parents. Children spend more time with their parents than all of their teachers and therapists combined. So parents are really the best ones to help their child learn to connect.
P.L.A.Y Project uses the DIR®/Floortime™ model of Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a nationally respected child psychiatrist. DIR stands for developmental, individual-differences, and relationship-based. This means that parent-and-child interactions are highly valued and respected. A child’s emotional development depends so much on the intimate connection between a baby and parents – from early smiles and coos, to looks and gestures, verbal language, and ideas about how the world works. For a child with autism these connections can be disrupted because of the child’s challenging neurological disorder. As a home consultant I carefully analyze a child’s unique individual differences to determine the best play activities, methods and techniques to help relationship happen. And it does happen! Dr. Solomon’s initial pilot study of 70 children with autism demonstrated that 65% of the children in the P.L.A.Y. Project made good to excellent progress.
P.L.A.Y. Project has recently been awarded a $1.85 million grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health to conduct a three-year study of the model.
P.L.A.Y. Project is one type of DIR/Floortime service delivery model. Floortime therapy can be delivered many different ways - through a school program like Creekside, during OT or speech therapy, through private play therapy by a psychologist, through clinic or home consultation. P.L.A.Y. Project consists of a specific structure to provide DIR/Floortime through home consultation. Aspects specific to P.L.A.Y.include use of the PLAY Project Workshop DVD for an initial introduction, a 3-hour home visit once or twice monthly, the use of video and video feedback reports as part of the coaching. PLAY project home consultants must be trained in DIR/Floortime techniques by PLAY Project trainers and must work with a licensed PLAY Project agency. (I am my own licensed agency). Home consultants are also strongly encouraged to participate in ICDL DIR/Floortime Institute certificate program.
P.L.A.Y Project format looks like this: As a home consultant, I make one or two home visits per month for a 3 hour block of time. During that time I observe parent and child during play sessions and during their daily routine. I offer coaching and support to the parents, and as the child builds trust I model play techniques for the parents. With permission, I also videotape some of the play.
Between visits I analyze the videotape to better understand the child’s strengths and needs. And I provide additional input in the form of a Video Review report. The parent receives the report and the video between visits to help them continue their learning and to help train others such as grandparents, friends and other caregivers.
Most of my current families are using P.L.A.Y Project to supplement their child’s half-day school program or ABA home therapy. P.L.A.Y. Project and ABA are complementary and have different strategic directions. DIR/Floortime is distinctive from ABA as it emphasizes following a child’s interests and preferences rather than therapist initiated activities. DIR/Floortime emphasizes emotion to create engagement and connection rather than primarily focusing on building skills. And PLAY Project’s main focus is integrating parents into the therapy.
Joanne, thanks for explaining the details of this program. East Bay parents in Northern California can contact Joanne Finn directly through her website, and those in other locations can check out the P.L.A.Y Project website to find a local provider.
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Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.