A little over a month ago, a man named Dr. Stanley Greenspan died. I never met him. He never met my son. But his work changed all of our lives this year.
Noah attended a school this year that used Dr. Greenspan's DIR/Floortime model. (The DIR stands for Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based. Floortime is a specific intervention technique for engaging with a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder [ASD] or other developmental delays or emotional problems. You can read more about both here.)
When the program was first suggested for him, I was taken aback: Noah has not been diagnosed with an ASD -- he's been evaluated, he's come close, but ultimately everyone has agreed that no, his difficulties are similar but something different. So I wondered if this was the right choice -- treating him like an autistic child, putting him in a class with children who likely have much higher levels of need? And I was ruffled at the idea that my child didn't engage or bond with me already, that I was playing with him wrong or something, that 20 minutes with somebody else at the train table could ever be that different from what we were doing already.
We're in our final days of the program right now. His teacher asked if she could use video and assessments of Noah as part of a presentation as an example of a "success story." Her early videos show him lining up trains, over and over again. The trains don't go anywhere. They don't do anything. He doesn't want anyone else to touch them or create a narrative with them or pretend to "be" the train. He won't engage in imitative or imaginative play, he's terrified of dress-up clothes, he doesn't want anything to do with his peers, he will run and hide when there are too many children or too much noise.
Oh, Dr. Greenspan. If you could see him now!
I pick him up from school and the boys are playing Star Wars. I'm Luke Skywalker and you're Darth Vader. You're the bad guy, mwa ha ha. Put this hat on, it's your helmet. I'm going to make you disappear! Pow! Shwewwww!
It may be "just play," but Dr. Greenspan understood that it's an important tool for these children, to engage with them and help them develop higher levels of thinking and understanding of the world around them. Noah now moves in and out of imaginative play, symbolic play. He will experiment with things that are a little scary, work pretend problems out to a logical (or just plain silly) conclusion, and through this is able to interact with the regular big bad overwhelming world in general. He used to just ... panic, but now he processes and predicts. Other people and children don't baffle him as much anymore -- they're fun. They're friends. They're part of playing the game.
One of Noah's classmates met with Dr. Greenspan after school almost every Thursday. During her appointments we'd have her younger sister over for a playdate. The playdates stopped last month, and I didn't realize why. I was shocked when I went to the DIR/Floortime website to get some information for a friend and saw the announcement about Dr. Greenspan's death. It was strange. It was a very real loss.
We threw a lot of time, money, and resources at Noah's challenges this past year. Noah's successes, for sure, are a factor of a lot of different things working together. But I have NO DOUBT that the Floortime program was a huge part of righting the ship -- it pulled my son out of himself. It helped him learn how to be a little kid. A -- dare I say it -- pretty typical little kid.
Thank you, Dr. Greenspan, for all of this.