Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

Natural (Motivational) Environment Teaching for Beginning Learners

Dr. Stanley Greenspan, the founder of Floortime®, was interested in helping the child establish social/emotional relationships.  He posited six functional developmental levels:

1. Shared attention and attachment

2. Engagement

3. Two way communication

4. Complex two-way communication

5. Shared meanings and symbolic play

6. Emotional thinking

Greenspan proposed to help the child negotiate these six developmental levels through play, starting with activities at the child’s “comfort zone,” i.e., those activities in which the child currently finds comfort, such as:  Lining up blocks, turning lights off and on, spinning things, making noises, deep pressure, etc., etc.

At Levels 1 & 2 (Shared Attention and Engagement):

The child still prefers “comfort zone” activities

He/she can pay attention to, tolerate, and/or enjoy brief interactions:

There may be evidence of attachment

The child responds to comfort and attention

The child enjoys sensory-motor play

There is limited receptive language, e.g., the child turns to his or her name occasionally

Interactions are brief and/or inconsistent

At Levels 3 & 4 (Two-way Communication):

There is more sustained engagement: The child seeks attention, comforting; he/she imitates simple gestures

He/she initiates interactions based on needs/wants

He/she enjoys sensory-motor games

Receptive language is more consistently emerging

Gestures are combined with an increasing number of words

There is understanding of basic emotional themes, e,g., approval, alarm, etc.

At Level 5 (Shared Meanings):

The child communicates ideas through words

He/she engages in simple pretend play with adults

And in simple pretend play with children

He/she understands facial expressions

He/she responds to 1 & 2 step commands

There is emerging self concept (e.g., body parts)

There is a developing sense of humour

He/she spontaneously greets familiar people

At Level 6 (Emotional Thinking):

The child expresses and identifies own and others’ feelings

He/she recognizes a relationship between feelings, behaviour and consequences

There is more complex social dramas/play with themes

He/she takes someone else’s view

He/she is aware of social norms

He/she is aware of safety, time, the past, etc.

He/she talks in paragraphs

There are multiple sequences of interactions


Posted on March 22, 2014 by regmreynolds 

Natural (Motivational) Environment Teaching for Beginning Learners, continued

You can, and probably should, purchase the DVD, The P.L.A.Y. Project Workshop Level 1: Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters by Richard Solomon, MD.  This DVD contains a complete workshop, including play-based interventions, based on Greenspan’s DIR model.

In contrast to most ABA based interventions, The P.L.A.Y. Project ( is specifically designed to be a parent training approach, somewhat similar to Gutstein’s Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), which Schramm referenced in the first edition of his book about “turning the tables on autism” and dispensed with in the second.

It suggests a variety of playtime approaches and activities appropriate for use by parents at each of Greenspan’s developmental levels:

Levels 1 & 2 play activities might include

Gently shaking arms or legs

Gently squeezing arms, legs, head

Swinging in a blanket

Gentle pressure

Gentle wrestling


Blowing on skin, hair, face

Opening and closing a door while playing peek-a-boo from the other side

Water play of all kinds

Turning the lights off and on

A “feeling box” (a shoe box filled with beans, or marbles, or Brillo pads, etc.)

Spinning the child on a swing or swivel chair

Building blocks up and knocking them down, with accompanying commentary

Dropping things, with accompanying “Boom”

Flipping pages of a book


Levels 3 & 4 play activities might include

All of the Levels 1 & 2 activities, plus

Chase: “I’m going to get you”

Get the bubbles, balloon, etc.

Rolling a ball back and forth

Very simple pretend play, such as phone to ear, feeding the dolly, cars crash and make a crashing sound

Finger painting


Play with farm animals, dump trucks, trains

Being silly

Song games such as “Wheels on the bus,” “Eensy weensy spider,” “Old MacDonald”

Building forts from cardboard boxes, tents from blankets over chairs, etc.

Ready-set-go games

Making choices about what they want to play

Getting in the way games (“It’s stuck. Can you open it?”)

Remember to follow the child’s lead.


Levels 5 & 6 play activities might include

Pretend: dress up, doll (or action figure) tea party, dinosaurs chasing each other

Hide and seek

Reading to the child (and vice versa) – probably mainly looking at the pictures and talking about what is happening in the story line

Drawing faces

Sequencing cards, objects, etc.


Musical chairs


Treasure hunts

Simon says

Board games: Snakes and ladders

Card games: Fish


I spy

More complex pretend games

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