An AP Approach to Autism

By Melissa Hincha-Ownby, editor of the API Speaks blog

Melissa Hincha-Ownby
Melissa Hincha-Ownby

Like many families that I know, my husband and I just sort of fell into Attachment Parenting. When our son was born in 2001, we found our parenting style to be in line with Attachment Parenting concepts. As we added baby number two in 2003, I was introduced to the challenges of parenting two children. Of course, we kept with the Attachment Parenting style because it helped address some of these challenges (can anyone say sleepy mom of two?).

Fast forward a couple of years, and our Attachment Parenting style helped us with one of the biggest parenting challenges that I think we’ll ever have to face — autism.

In November 2006, the day before my daughter’s third birthday, she was diagnosed with autism. Technically, her diagnosis was autistic disorder. At this point, there are five different diagnoses that fall under the pervasive developmental disorder umbrella and autistic disorder was one of these.

After hearing those words, “Your daughter has autism,” I began to read everything I could get my hands on. A lot of the literature focused on behavior therapy as the gold standard with regards to helping a child with autism reach their potential. I was a little concerned that the behavior therapy being proposed was not very child-friendly but also concerned that this type of therapy may be needed. Although my daughter’s delays were very evident, I stayed the course with an Attachment Parenting approach and searched for other options.

Eventually I found something called the DIR/Floortime Approach by Dr. Stanley Greenspan.

What is DIR/Floortime Approach?

According to The Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders at “The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based (DIR®/Floortime™) Model is a framework that helps clinicians, parents, and educators conduct a comprehensive assessment and develop an intervention program tailored to the unique challenges and strengths of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other developmental challenges. The objectives of the DIR®/Floortime™ Model are to build healthy foundations for social, emotional, and intellectual capacities rather than focusing on skills and isolated behaviors.”

D = Developmental

I = Individual difference

R = Relationship based

The more I read, the more I began to think that this was something I wanted to use to help my daughter. Instead of sitting my daughter at a table and making her respond in a typically appropriate way to a prompt, or sitting at that table until she did what was expected of her, I got down on her level and used her interests to work with her.

Floortime really supports the need to follow the child’s lead. If she wanted to line up cars, then I’d get down there and line up cars with her, all the while talking about the cars that we were lining up. Every now and then, I’d take a car and use it to drive around the other cars and then line it back up. The lines were what she wanted to do, but the drive that the car took broadened my daughter’s experience with the cars.

Floortime is also how I got involved in the Disney Princesses. I wasn’t a big fan of the Disney Princess line, but my daughter showed interest in them when she saw a few dolls at a store. She showed genuine interest in something, so I took that and ran with it. We used the Disney Princesses to learn quite a bit about life. Again, this was me following her lead in order to help her grow and learn.

In my opinion, the Floortime approach is very Attachment Parenting-friendly. That being said, I do know of other parents in the autism community that have found wonderful behavioral therapists who have approached therapy from a more Attachment Parenting-friendly perspective. It can be done.

If there is one thing I’ve discovered after having been a part of the autism community for more than three years is that it is not one size fits all.  There is no single best answer.  However, for my child, and me, the best answer was to stay true to my Attachment Parenting instincts and pursue the Floortime approach.

2 thoughts on “An AP Approach to Autism”

  1. I am sitting in the waiting room of Johns Hopkins. My son has been diagnosed with reaction attachment disorder and PDD. I am at a loss as to where to get help in Frederick County. Your story touched me. Do you know of any therapists in Frederick that does attachment therapy with an understanding of Autism or Asbergs?

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