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  • Writer's pictureCircles of Communication

The connection between "Circles of Communication," DIR/Floortime, and Circus Play

Circles of Communication was named such for a few reasons- Amy has always loved circles and mandalas, The Potato House is a circle, the circus skills we weave into therapy involve circle-shaped props and the root word of “circus” is “circle.” Additionally, Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s Developmental, Individual-Differences, Relationship-Based (DIR) “Floortime” model describes “circles of communication” as purposeful back-and-forth interactions between two communication partners. This month’s blog post will focus on one key component of the DIR/Floortime model, the benefits of circus play, and how you can incorporate both at home in an effort to strengthen communication skills for all ages and abilities. There is a lot to unpack so we will start small and most definitely revisit these themes in subsequent months.

In the DIR/Floortime model, verbal and non-verbal “circles of communication” of all sizes are equally valid and meaningful. For example, when an individual reaches or points to an object of interest, and their communication partner responds by looking at the object, a small “circle of communication” has been opened and closed. A bigger circle might be if one individual calls out the others’ name and the other individual says “what?” An even bigger circle is a conversational exchange and a really subtle example might be simply exchanging glances. Strategies for increasing the frequency, duration, and depth of communication circles include:

  • Following your child’s lead by joining in their actions- as long as they are safe and no matter what they are

  • Treat everything your child does as intentional

  • Find playful ways to expand on all interactions- for example, you can interfere, follow the instructions, do the instruction the “wrong” way, add a related idea, just keep going!

We encourage you to try these strategies to support your child’s communication skills. The strategies shared are particularly well-suited for weaving into natural, daily interactions like mealtime, cartime, bedtime, bathtime, and playtime.

Playtime, which sounds so straightforward (“time to play”), is often daunting for those attempting to interact and connect with neurodiverse learners. Because all brains are wired differently, all people play differently. Multiple studies in addition to first hand perspectives from autistic adults for example, have confirmed that autistic play, while different in nature, is an equally valid and effective tool for developing cognitive, motor, and communication skills. All people, and especially children, need and learn through play.

We have found one particularly engaging form of play across neurotypes is circus play! Circus skills like hula hooping, juggling, and plate spinning are fascinating and challenging yet achievable when taught mindfully and incrementally. They inherently target essential skills like persistence, body awareness, initiation, comprehension, and more. Often, the repetitive and continuous movement inherent in this type of play evokes a positive feeling of calm, comfort, and concentration. In a secure, regulated state higher-level learning is achievable.

At home, we invite you to try providing and play freeling with circus toys like:

  • Hula Hoops (Readily available at most convenience and toy stores. We also have some high-quality hula hoops made by Amy’s friend for sale- just ask!)

  • Juggling Balls (Bean bags or tennis balls work well. You can also order a set here.)

  • Dancing Scarves (You can try playing with any scarves you already own- especially light, airy fabric ones, or order a set here.)

  • Ribbon Dancers (You can make your own by attaching ribbon to a stick, or order a set here.)

When playing with circus-inspired props, there is no need to target any particular movement or skill. You can simply play freely by spinning, waving, dancing, tossing, and more. Turning on some favorite music may help!

We hope your month ahead is filled with playfulness, the excitement of approaching summer vacation, and continued growth in learning and communication. While we will continue to implement these practices in all of our sessions, we encourage you to implement our suggestions in whatever way works for you.

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