Posts Tagged ‘emotions’

Play date activities for children with autism spectrum disorders

January 28, 2011

Participating in play dates can help children with autism gain invaluable social skills.  The best way for children on the autism spectrum to learn how to manage their emotions and make friends is to practice those skills over and over with their peers.

A sample list of play date activities designed to improve social-emotional, play, cognitive, and motor skills is below.  The description of ideas is just a guide.  The list of potential games, sports, and other activities is endless.  The list below includes activities that in some cases require a minimum level of education and communication.

Activities should be customized to the interests and needs of students.  A list of ten or so major activities can be given to kids who should have some leeway to take turns choosing activities.  In a two-hour play date, usually about six activities can be accomplished.

To read the rest of my article on, click here.



Read books with children with autism during play dates

December 4, 2010

One of the best activities to do with children with autism during play dates is to read books, as long as it’s done in an engaging, interactive way.  At a recent play date I facilitated, I brought a stack of books from my collection – books that I thought would be most likely to be big hits.  Then I let the kids choose which ones they were going to read.  To my surprise, they chose “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss and “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, which were my favorite books when I was very young.  It turned out great.  To see the whole list of books that I brought (those about emotions, social skills, humor, etc.),  ones that didn’t make the cut, plus links to other articles about books for children with autism, click here for my article on

Understanding and managing emotions are important life and social skills for children with autism

August 10, 2010

Children with autism are often notoriously poor at identifying, understanding, expressing, and handling their emotions. Meltdowns and tantrums can be common, and the ability to recover from these outbursts can be elusive. Emotion coaching is therefore a crucial component of any autism therapy program.

Helping children with autism deal with feelings should be accomplished not only during play dates and social skills practice, but also during more traditional cognitive and academic behavioral teaching. In fact, an argument can be made that the ability to handle emotions is more important than the ability to excel academically.

Dr. Stanley Greenspan, who emphasized the importance of learning emotions and social skills for children with autism, discussed the need to teach those skills together with academics in “Engaging Autism.”

To read the rest of my article on, click here.

Monsters, Inc.

January 22, 2010

Last August 22, I wrote a blog describing some lessons learned from autism therapy (2009/08/22/lessons-learned-from-autism-therapy/).  I listed ten common mistakes people make and I include one of them below:

Making the child the “King of the Household.”

A child has a disability, so parents feel sorry for him, letting him get away with bad behavior, and excusing him from acting appropriately.  Congratulations.  You are on your way to creating a monster who becomes the King of the Household.  You might as well start fitting the crown and the throne now.  On the bright side, everyone knows who rules the place.

The point is that people with disabilities, whether they are children or adults, whether their disabilities are physical, cognitive, psychiatric or developmental, should not be pitied.  Unfortunately, many people instinctively pity people with disabilities, treating them differently and letting them get away with anything, to the point that those people with disabilities consciously or unconsciously take advantage of the situation.  Of course people should have reasonable accommodations, or modifications to help them be successful.

What I’m about to say may seem extreme, but I strongly believe it.  If you have the choice of making fun of a person with a disability or pitying him, you should definitely make fun of him.  That’s right – given the choice of ridiculing people with disabilities and pitying them, you should definitely ridicule them.

Of course you’d never be faced with the situation of having to make a choice between pitying someone and making fun of him or her.  But I’m trying to illustrate a point.  I’m not advocating making fun of anyone with a disability.  Of course it’s a bad idea to make fun of anyone.  I’m just making the point that pitying someone with a disability is even worse, because then you’re not holding the person to high standards, for accomplishments or behavior or anything else.  You’re giving them too much slack, and they realize it, and if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.

Here’s another way to explain it.  Let’s use a person with a physical disability as an example.  Most people would look at a guy in a wheelchair and pity him.  However, studies have shown that people with disabilities are about as happy as those without disabilities.  They can also be jerks, and if you don’t believe it, then you’re not treating everyone fairly.  There are people who would say, “How can someone in a wheelchair be a jerk?  They’ve gone through so much – it must be so hard for them – it’s understandable for them to be a little rude.  Cut them some slack.”

But that’s exactly the wrong attitude.  That’s patronizing.  So when children grow up with disabilities and you excuse them for all sorts of behavior, as I said in my blog, you’re creating monsters.  And at some point, there’s no turning back.

A perfect example of this is Eric the Midget from the Howard Stern show.  Eric, 34, has Dwarfism, Nevus flammeus nuchae, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.  He’s 3 foot 5 and in a wheelchair.  And he’s a completely arrogant jerk.  He never does anything for other people.

It’s a little more complicated for kids with autism, especially if it’s severe, because certain behaviors are often accommodations for the way they experience the world, they can have a hard time handling emotions, and they can be very slow in learning social skills.  I understand that.  From 2007 –

How do you teach empathy to a child with autism?

It is well known that many children with autism have problems with regulating their emotions. What isn’t as well known is that many children with autism do feel emotions strongly. However, they just don’t have the ability to understand, regulate or express emotions as well as typically developing children. This is all the more reason to work on it. For example, if a tennis player has a backhand that is the least effective part of his or her game, you work on that skill because it’s the one that is needed most – you don’t ignore it because it’s the worst shot.

In other words, if someone is weak at something, you don’t say, “Johnny doesn’t understand how to play, so he can’t do playdates.”  That’s the exact reason that such a child should do playdates – to work on a weakness and make it better.

So you work on those skills.  You don’t use their weaknesses as excuses and then allow the children to scream and then get whatever they want as a result.  That’s rewarding bad behavior.  You wouldn’t let your typical child get away with saying he doesn’t want to learn math, so you shouldn’t let your autistic child do the same thing.

Speaking of parents of kids with disabilities, I’ve noticed that a lot of people sometimes cut parents a little too much slack as well.  It’s ok to say, “It must be so hard to be a parent of a child with autism,” and understand where they’re coming from.  That’s true, but it’s a fine line – I believe some parents will use that inch you give them and turn it into a mile, and frankly, behave badly and inappropriately, as if any of their actions can be justified just because they have a child with autism.

For example, I once witnessed a situation in which a therapist worked for a family for almost a year, doing excellent work.  The therapist recommended an additional person to come in to help teach the child and before long, the new person was there and the person who did the recommending was out.  That kind of reckless, short-term thinking on the part of the parents can’t be good for the child, not to mention the unethical implications.

This might be a good time for me to mention another one from the infamous top ten at (2009/08/22/lessons-learned-from-autism-therapy/).

Therapists are shuffled in and out and there is a lack of continuity.

In some cases, by the time a child is 10, he has been to several different schools, had several different home programs, and had turnover within each program so he has worked with more than 50 teachers and therapists.  It is not good for children to get attached to therapists and then have them taken away from them, because it teaches children that people are dispensable and interchangeable.  It’s also not good for the children psychologically to have people constantly shuffled in and out and taken away from them because they may develop problems in the future related to that.

If you want to hire a handyman to fix your windows, and then a different handyman to do some other jobs around your house, fine.  Every once in a while I hire someone from craigslist to clean my apartment, and it’s rarely the same person.  But it’s different for people who work with kids.  The relationship is important.  By making constant changes you’re teaching your child that people will leave them and you’re implying that your child is just a robot, not a thinking, feeling human being.

The relationship is crucial to learning, though it is intangible and not easily quantifiable.  I know a child with moderately severe autism who remembers people from when he was two years old.  Because I hear the details of those memories every time I see that child.

I’m not being globally critical of parents, I’m just telling it like it is, which is my philosophy.  In fact, three years ago on I wrote that parents know more about autism than anyone else:

Who are the foremost experts on autism?

Parents are the greatest experts on autism. Everyone else is second. This includes, alphabetically: ABA Therapists, DIR Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Medical Doctors, Physical Therapists, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Scientists, Social Workers, Speech Therapists and others. Parents know more about autism than anyone else and they should be respected by doctors and other professionals accordingly.

So to sum up, you should never pity people with disabilities.  You should hold them to a high standard and have high expectations of them so that they are held accountable.  Understand that they can be jerks.  Again, I use the example of an adult rather than a child, and someone with a physical disability rather than a developmental one to avoid confusion.  But if you don’t realize that people with disabilities can be jackasses then you’re not treating them fairly, or equal with other people.

The same idea applies for children with autism, it’s just that there is a fine line – you have to understand the reasons why they do the things they do, but you also have to understand that they are very capable of learning and shouldn’t get a free pass to do anything because of their disabilities.  The children should not rule the household.  They should be held to a high standard and learn appropriate social skills.

Finally, parents of children with autism or other disabilities shouldn’t be given a free pass to behave inappropriately or recklessly just because they have a tough situation.  They should be held to high standards as well.

LOGICAL WOMAN AND EMPATHETIC MAN MAKE HISTORY: First-Ever Instance of Man Understanding Emotions while Woman Uses Reason

January 20, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS – For the first time in recorded history, a woman used “logic,” defined as “reason or sound judgment,” ahead of emotion in dealing with her boyfriend, while her boyfriend simultaneously placed more importance on understanding her emotions than attempting to fix their problems using only his perspective.

The historic moment occurred Tuesday afternoon when Polly Piatkouwski and John Tuttle “validated” each others’ thoughts by listening and repeating back what each other said, a strategy that has been previously believed to be theoretically possible, but heretofore never actually been verified to have occurred organically.

“I decided to listen to what she was saying and tried to put myself in her position,” Tuttle said.  Meanwhile, Piatkowski said she used “reason,” defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “the power of intelligent and dispassionate thought, or of conduct influenced by such thought.”

“It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be,” Piatkouwski opined.  “But I’ll probably go back to letting my emotions rule my thoughts, being indirect, and expecting John to read my mind.”  Tuttle said he planned to return to trying to fix problems, taking things literally and ignoring intangibles rather than listening to his girlfriend and understanding where she’s coming from.

Still, the moment will be chronicled and celebrated for decades to come, historians say.  “If it happened once, it could happen again,” said Nicholas Johnson of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Sociologists say women have used logic before.  They also have multiple records of men being emotionally aware and validating what women say.  However, this has never been accomplished to anyone’s knowledge by the same couple in the same situation.

Psychologist Norman Greenbaum said he believes that the couple’s claims are plausible.  “With hundreds of millions of couples having argued throughout America’s history, I believe this may have even happened another time at some point before and just gone unnoticed.”

Greenbaum said that it would be statistically possible for a man to be empathetic while his girlfriend uses rational sense to solve a problem.  He stated that this phenomenon may even occur again at some point.  However, cynics say the couple may be perpetrating a hoax, claiming that the odds of such an event are just too high to have actually occurred during the same situation.

(Note:  The above is a satire and not related to any particular situation.  It is written in the style of articles on the Sometimes I write blogs or website content that is exaggerated or intended to be humorous.  Not everyone will like it or get it. It reminds me of a story in which comedian Gilbert Gottfried was bombing, but continued to do more and more of the same material on purpose despite the audience’s reaction).

Helping Kids (Autistic or Typical) Regulate Emotions

December 21, 2009

Here are some strategies that are good to teach children to handle their emotions.  These can work for kids with autism, who have a hard time regulating emotions, as well as for neurotypical children.

1.  Validate their feelings.  Don’t diminish what they say by saying they should not be upset.  Tell them you understand they are upset and that it’s normal to be upset.  Identify with them by saying that everybody feels badly sometimes – even adults.

2.  Give them strategies to self-regulate their emotions.  Examples include having them:

  • Take deep breaths.  Have them breathe into their hands or use a windmill or a leaf.
  • Count to 10 or 20.
  • Talk about it with a parent, teacher, or peer.
  • Exercise

3.  Use a video camera to tape them complaining about doing an activity and also tape them acting appropriately.  Show them both versions so they can understand how others perceive them (theory of mind).

By the way, if anyone has any other ideas, feel free to contact me (contact information is at

Greenspan’s DIR Model for Autism: Part 1

September 20, 2009

For therapists and families to be effective in working with kids with autism, they should be able to do any methodology.

There is an alphabet soup of different methods to teach kids with autism – Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA); the Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based (DIR) Model; Relationship Development Intervention (RDI); Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication – Handicapped Children (TEACCH), and others.

Regardless of which methodologies are used, programs need to have goals and targets and teach in such a way so that kids can generalize skills to apply what they have learned to a natural environment.  Teaching methods should also integrate academics and cognitive skills; emotional awareness and social skills; exercise, sports, and motor skills; along with spontaneous, imaginative, and creative play.  Skills should be taught in a meaningful way rather than a robotic, rote way.

Children need to develop a relationship with caregivers in order to learn.  The revolving door philosophy of bringing people in and out so that a child has had 100 caregivers by the time he is 10 does not work.  Stanley Greenspan says, “Emotion always come before behavior.  The child needs to enjoy relationships with parents, peers, and teachers in order to learn.”  Emotion is critical to brain development.  It’s more than “cute” when a child is engaged with a caregiver.  The child learns better.

I have been an advocate of Greenspan’s DIR method for the past few years.   The Interdisciplinary Council on Learning Disorders ( says this about DIR.

DIR is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach that focuses on the emotional development of the child. It takes into account the child’s feelings, relationships with caregivers, developmental level and individual differences in a child’s ability to process and respond to sensory information.  It focuses on the child’s skills in all developmental areas, including social-emotional functioning, communication, thinking and learning, motor skills, body awareness, and attention.

The goal of treatment is to help the child master the healthy emotional milestones that were missed in his early development and that are critical to learning.  Building these foundations helps children overcome their symptoms more effectively than simply trying to change the symptoms alone.

Then it says this about Floortime:

Floortime, a vital element of the DIR/Floortime model, is a treatment method as well as a philosophy for interacting with children (and adults as well). Floortime involves meeting a child at his current developmental level, and building upon his particular set of strengths.  Floortime harnesses the power of a child’s motivation; following his lead, wooing him with warm but persistent attempts to engage his attention and tuning in to his interests and desires in interactions. Through Floortime, parents, child care providers, teachers and therapists help children climb the developmental ladder.  By entering into a child’s world, we can help him or her learn to relate in meaningful, spontaneous, flexible and warm ways.

Floortime is a component of DIR but not the same.  In Floortime, you follow the lead of the child.  In DIR, once kids move past the initial stages of the developmental ladder, you create programs that revolve around the child’s interests, in which he is emotionally engaged, with meaningful two-way interaction, customized toward his individual differences.  The kids don’t tell you what to do; you just do things that are meaningful to them.  Again, Floortime is only a subset of DIR.  In the lower developmental levels of DIR (Floortime), you follow the child’s lead (but even then that means you follow and join what the child is interested in – the child doesn’t tell you what to do), and in the higher levels there are more structured, therapist or parent-led programs.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote on my website at (see #4) a little about DIR and Floortime, as well as a summary of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

I combine elements of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as well as the Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship (DIR) based method. I believe a combination of ABA and DIR methods is optimal because ABA provides step-by-step instruction while DIR focuses on relationships, emotions and interests. Children need both structure and meaning when they learn.

ABA is used to teach academic, communication, problem solving, behavioral, social, play, and other skills by breaking tasks down into small steps and practicing drills. ABA also uses positive reinforcement and just as much prompting as is necessary. Inappropriate behaviors may be phased out by redirecting to target activities rather than drawing more attention to those behaviors. Antecedents, behaviors, and consequences are tracked to try to determine the reasons behind behaviors and implement appropriate interventions. However, some behaviors may be accommodations children need to manage their body or sensory difficulties. Therefore, I focus on building skills more so than reducing behaviors.

The DIR method focuses on the emotional development of the child. It takes into account the child’s feelings, relationships and individual differences. DIR involves following the child’s lead and enables the child to learn by doing what he or she likes to do in a fun and meaningful way. According to, “DIR focuses on the child’s skills in all developmental areas, including social-emotional functioning, communication, thinking and learning, motor skills, body awareness and attention.” The DIR method can also help a child generalize skills initially learned through drills.

Part of the DIR model includes Floortime, which is based on working with a child at his or her current developmental level, and building upon strengths and interests in a way that is meaningful to the child, rather than just focusing on surface behaviors and drills that don’t always generalize into life skills. Floortime can be especially effective during periods when a child needs more play and less work.

5.     Which is better – ABA or the DIR model?

In my opinion, this question is kind of like asking, “Which is better in football – running the ball or passing the ball?” or “Which is better in basketball – a zone defense or man to man?” They’re both necessary in different situations, and a balance of both may be most effective. For example, you can do repetitive drills broken down into small steps based on the child’s individual differences, interests and relationships, making sure to incorporate social skills and emotions.

In doing so, children can learn valuable skills such as sequencing the steps needed to complete a task. Children with autism benefit from structure, but they will be more engaged if the drill involves something in which they are emotionally invested. The DIR model is harder to quantify than ABA, but DIR is built on relationships, spontaneity and interaction. Children are not robots, and drills can’t be done in a vacuum.

For example, you can teach a child who is obsessed with a particular toy communication and problem solving skills in the following way: Hide the toy in one of your hands and get the child to reach for it and choose which hand it is in. Then you can do the same thing by holding the toy behind your back, or placing it near your face to establish eye contact. Subsequent steps may include getting the child to make sounds or use speech if possible to request the toy. The toy is used as a reward. This example is based on one in Engaging Autism by Dr. Stanley Greenspan.

For the rest of the FAQs on my website, see

Lately, it seems that RDI has taken off as the method of choice.  I can’t really see how RDI is much different than DIR, except maybe that the order of the letters sounds a little bit more catchy.  If anything, RDI seems like an implementation of DIR.  However, this summary from Chicago Floortime Families points out some differences as well as many similarities.

According to (I went there because the RDI website at doesn’t do a good job of describing RDI), children can develop the following through RDI:

  • Dramatic improvement in meaningful communication,
  • Desire and skills to share their experiences with others,
  • Genuine curiosity and enthusiasm for other people,
  • Ability to adapt easily and “go with the flow,”
  • Amazing increase in the initiation of joint attention,
  • Powerful improvement in perspective taking and theory of mind,
  • Dramatically increased desire to seek out and interact with peers.

This looks a lot like DIR to me.  In any case, whether it’s DIR, RDI, or you want to create a new acronym such as IRD or IDR, the goals of each system are the same.

Greenspan’s DIR Model for Autism: Part 2

September 20, 2009

I decided to take some of the most important passages from “Engaging Autism” by Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder, with other quotes paraphrased.  These are the lines from the book that I underlined when I read the book three years ago.  I did the same for the John Gottman relationship books on a blog a while back.  Of course, like Rodney Dangerfield said in “Back to School,” the guy underlining the pages “could have been an idiot.”  So with that said, here goes:

Quotes from Stanley Greenspan’s “Engaging Autism” (I bold parts that I think are most important, and I divided the quotes into categories where I thought they fit best).

Developmental vs. Behavioral Approaches

  • Many programs that focus…on symptoms or behaviors rely on the troubling assumption that many children with ASD cannot ever acquire skills for truly intimate relating, empathy, and creative problem solving.  The DIR model focuses on the underlying deficits that lead to symptoms.

  • Schools tend to be very structured and to put a high priority on compliance and limit setting, rather than on engaging, interacting, problem-solving, and thinking creatively and logically.
  • The behavioral model led to modest educational gains and little or no social or emotional benefits.
  • The old way:  children could learn social behaviors in a scripted, memorized way, but not engage in spontaneous and creative social interactions and thinking.
  • With the new developmental approaches, we see it as a continuum on which all children can become warm and related and purposeful.
  • We now understand that the lines of early development are interrelated.  Rather than assessing language skills, motor skills, and social-emotional skills separately, we should look at how well these abilities are integrated, how they work together as a whole.
  • An example of a non-DIR approach:  isolated skills, such as matching shapes, rather than essential developmental building blocks.
  • The DIR model shows how to use a range of interventions in a truly integrated manner.

  • Parents and clinicians need not make a Solomon’s choice between relationships on one hand and cognitive and language skills on the other.  Cognition, language, and social-emotional development all stem from the same foundation.

  • DIR is organized by asking:  What are the problem behaviors?  How is the child doing on the fundamentals of relating, thinking, and communicating?  How is the child doing on her processing capacities, and what are the contributing factors (including biomedical challenges) affecting these capacities?  What experiences work and don’t work to help the child, and how capable is the family of doing the things that work?

Don’t have a Ceiling

  • Progress comes from getting the child to take the initiative.  The biggest mistake is telling the child what to do to provoke a set response, rather than challenging her to take the initiative or to solve a problem with you.

  • It’s just as important to work with children when they’re at peak performance as when they’re struggling, because then we help them advance developmentally and master higher levels all the time.
  • Never assume a ceiling on a child’s abilities.  Always assume you can get to one more level, and after that, one more level.
  • The child may have a disorder or a set of problems, but he is not the disorder.  He is a human being with real feelings, real desires, and real wishes.
  • The brain develops into the fifties and sixties, so it’s never too late.

Learning and Language through Emotions, Engagement, and Relationships

  • Mastery of the early stages of emotional interaction is associated with language and thinking skills.
  • Language, cognition, and mathematical and quantity concepts are all learned through emotionally significant interactive experiences and relationships.  Emotions enable us to learn.
  • Emotion is critical for many elements of language.
  • When engaged, children have a desire to communicate.
  • At the second level are the ongoing and consistent relationships that every child requires for emotional and cognitive competency.  Children with ASD need even more warm, consistent caregiving than do typically developing children.  Almost all human learning occurs in relationships, which must foster warmth, intimacy, and pleasure.
  • Use words meaningfully through emotions and pretend play rather than by rote.
  • The goal is to have all of the emotional experiences of life expressed through circles of emotional interaction.
  • Turn the activity into shared interaction.
  • The ability to love deeply is present in children with ASD, whether or not it can be easily expressed.
  • Children should be encouraged to express negative feelings.  Don’t take the child’s expressions of negative feelings personally, but respond sympathetically so he doesn’t get the idea that expressing his feelings is dangerous.
  • Emotion always come before behavior.  The child needs to enjoy relationships with parents, peers, and teachers in order to learn.

  • Many adults who had ASD and other special needs as children achieve a high level of empathy or enter the helping professions, because often they had to struggle more with challenges or feelings of disappointment than their peers did.  (My comment – this proves that kids with autism can learn empathy.)
  • We believe the primary problem in individuals with ASD is a biological difficulty in connecting emotion to motor actions and later to symbols.  Emotions link different types of mental functioning.

Other Language Skills

  • It’s better for children to use single words interactively with meaning than to recite whole sentences or paragraphs they have memorized.
  • Children with auditory processing challenges especially need to hear the rhythm of a voice.  Repeat what you say, and emphasize it.
  • Since John’s main form of communication related to getting fed, mother played a little dumb to extend those moments with John was negotiating for some of his favorite foods.
  • Help the child connect ideas by pretending you don’t understand.

  • Say something like, “I went to the zoo and I saw a _______.”  Have the child fill in the blank.  Or, “He has four legs and barks.  He is a ______.”
  • Ask a child what he enjoyed most at school, and why?  (Keep in mind many of these suggestions will have to be adapted for the level of the child.  This one wouldn’t work for a child unable to communicate that level yet.)
  • Listen to audiotapes of stories in the car.

Family Involvement

  • Not enough time is spent watching the child interact with a parent or other trusted caregiver.  In many evaluations, children are separated from parents and challenged to perform various types of developmental tests in a way that fails to take into account the child’s individual differences.  The child becomes stressed and confused.  To make a proper diagnosis, a practitioner also has to see children at their very best.
  • The clinician may see the child for a couple of hours, but parents see the child for hours and hours every single day for years.
  • However gifted a particular therapist is, what really counts is what is done every single day, for hours a day, with a child.
  • The key is to have fun together.
  • A child’s progress with a DIR/Floortime program requires parents who are emotionally very available.
  • If you don’t pull the sibling into the family challenge, the sibling feels excluded.
  • Siblings and peers can help a great deal.
  • In general, it’s most effective for the child’s therapeutic team – including parents, educators, coordinator, and specific therapists – to meet regularly to design goals for the program.

Floortime:  Following the Child’s Lead

  • Observe what kinds of interactions bring the child pleasure.
  • Follow the child’s lead, regardless of where his interests lie.  That give us a clue about what he finds important.
  • Often we look for a way to reach a child – the magic key that will unlock the hidden door – when all the while the child is showing what he needs by his actions and the way he’s processing what comes his way.  We need to observe what children are doing to help themselves in the moment and then figure out how to meet them there.
  • We build on the child’s interest to help him move up the ladder of shared attention, engagement, two-way communication, shared problem solving, and creative and logical use of ideas.  That requires not just following the child’s lead but also challenging him.  So we don’t mean simply copying or imitating the child.  We mean taking the child’s cue in order to build new interactions and experiences.
  • The idea is to go with the flow but without giving into the child’s agenda.
  • In Floortime, why do you follow the child’s lead?  A child’s interests are the window to her emotional and intellectual life.
  • Always challenge the child to initiate.

Oral-Motor Skills

  • Some children have oral-motor problems that make it hard for them to move their tongue and the muscles in their mouth in order to speak.  Some children with both oral-motor problems may appear to have cognitive disabilities and to lack social skills when in fact they are limited in expressing their abilities by their motor impairments.

  • The teacher can play little imitative games, starting with sounds the child can make, with the child and teacher looking in a mirror together so the child can imitate the way the teacher’s mouth moves.

Sensory-Motor Skills

  • Orienting kids in space can help them with postural control, which helps them organize their nervous system, which makes it easier to get interaction.  One example is walking on a balance beam.

  • To help children be comfortable, caregivers must learn which sensations help children become calm and regulated, which ones overwhelm them, and which don’t pull them in enough.
  • The level of a child’s motor planning skills must also be gauged.  The best way to do this is by watching the child play.

Social Skills and Play Dates

  • We always recommend that kids have at least four playdates a week, so that their main source of companionship begins shifting from parents to peers…Mommy is still important for security, warmth, and problem solving, but not for going out and riding bikes together.

  • If we try to teach logical thinking to a child who is not yet able to engage in reciprocal social interactions, we are trying to build the upper story of a house on a very weak foundation.

  • A child who learns how to be social in fun and emotionally engaging learning environments at home will want to be social and will be able to do it at school or at home, because he has generalized what he has learned.
  • Teach with images, action, and drama.
  • Children with ASD often take everything literally.  One of the most effective activities is pretend or imaginative play.  Encourage role play and play with puppets.
  • They need opportunities for playing and communicating with peers.  It’s important for children to learn to use words and gestures and develop relationships with peers at the same time they are learning to do these with adults.  If they wait, this learning will be more difficult later on.
  • We have never worked with a child or adult who didn’t have a desire to relate to others. and Autism

May 22, 2009

This table shows what types of therapies I do for children with autism compared with some other providers.  I currently have spots available for toddlers and kindergarteners for playdates and other activities during the day.  See for more information.

  Area of Instruction or Therapeutic Intervention
  Cognitive Skills and Academics using ABA, VBA, or other techniques Playdate Facilitation Understanding and Handling Emotions Sports, Exercise, Motor Skills, Coordination Trips in the Community
Coach Mike Yes – Great Results Yes Yes Yes Yes
Most Autism Therapy Programs Yes – Good results No No No No

ABA = Applied Behavior Analysis.  VBA = Verbal Behavior Analysis

Mike Frandsen

Books on Emotions for Children with Autism

April 25, 2009

Children with autism are often very poor at identifying, understanding, and regulating emotions.  They are usually especially deficient in empathizing, or understanding that other people have emotions.  It’s an area that doesn’t get enough attention.  I’ve been meaning to post some of these on my website,, but for now I’ll list them here in this blog along with my ratings.  I’ve listed the levels as beginner, intermediate, and advanced just for simplicity.  For kids who can’t read you can still read the books to them and break them down into simple terms.  These books are great for neurotypical kids as well, of course. 

These books on emotions are different than ones on social stories or social skills.  There are a lot of great books on learning to share, having good manners, and being safe and careful.  Those are all necessary and great but books on emotions take it a step further.  “When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry,” by Molly Bang is a great example that shows a girl getting mad and then getting over it.  Another great book is “Proud of Our Feelings” by Lindsay Leghorn, which shows each child with a different feeling and asks the reader, “When do you feel _____?” 

For teaching children about emotions, when in doubt, I advocate the philosophy of John Gottman in “Raising the Emotionally Intelligent Child.”  The main idea of the book is that it’s best to validate a child’s emotions by telling him or her, “It’s ok to be upset.  I know you’re upset.  Everybody gets upset sometimes,” then offer a strategy, rather than to just say, “Don’t be upset.”  





How are You Peeling?

Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers

Fruits and vegetables are made to look like facial


The Feelings Book

Todd Parr

Colorful, simple concepts on emotions.


When Sophie Gets Angry, Really Really Angry

Molly Bang

Sophie gets angry, then cools down.


If You’re Angry and You Know It

Cecily Kaiser

Strategies for what do do when you get angry


On Monday When It Rained

Cherryl Kachenmeister

A boy experiences emotions, the reader guesses which ones.


When Lizzie was Afraid of Trying New Things

Inger Maier

Lizzie is afraid, tries things, then gains confidence


Proud of Our Feelings

Lindsay Leghorn

Each child has a different feeling


Having a Conversation/Feeling Happy, etc.



Customized books for kids with autism


When I’m Feeling Scared

Trace Moroney

A rabbit feels scared in different situations


When I’m Feeling Sad

Trace Moroney

A rabbit feels sad in different situations


I’m So Mad!

Robie H. Harris

Girl goes shopping with Mommy, is mad, then happy.


Sometimes Bad Things Happen

Ellen Jackson

Bad things happen, you can do things to feel better


Timothy Tugbottom Says No!

Anne Tyler

He says no, then tries things and likes them


The Boy Who Didn’t Want to Be Sad

Rob Goldblatt

A boy realizes the same things that make him sad also make
him happy.


When I Feel Angry

Cornelia Maude Spelman

Rabbit feels angry and uses strategies to cope


When I Feel Scared

Cornelia Maude Spelman

Bear feels scared and uses strategies


When My Worries Get too Big

Kari Dunn Buron

Strategies for anxiety


What to Do When You Worry Too Much

Dawn Huebner

In-depth explanation of worrying and what to do about it


Andy and His Yellow Frisbee

Mary Thompson

A girl has a brother with autism


The Bear Who Lost His Sleep

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro

Story about worrying too much


The Penguin Who Lost Her Cool

Marla Sobel

Story about controlling anger


Stop Picking on Me

Pat Thomas

Explanation of bullying


I’m Scared

Elizabeth Crary

Several situations about being afraid and what to do


I’m Frustrated

Elizabeth Crary

Several situations about being frustrated and what to do