The Community School, a tiny school in Decatur, Ga., with a student body of ten, all of whom have autism spectrum disorder or related disorders, is achieving breakthrough results through use of a relatively new teaching method known as D.I.R./Floortime, according to a recent New York Times Magazine article.
D.I.R./Floortime –D.I.R stands for developmental, individual differences, relationship-based approach—was developed by professors of child psychology and behavioral science at George Washington University. The basis of the method is individualized development: Teachers and parents aim to build on an individual student’s interests instead of pushing them towards a particular set of goals or ideas. “The essence of Floortime,” the article explains, “is that a person learns best when self-motivated, when an inner drive sparks the acquisition of skills and knowledge.”
D.I.R is a departure from Applied Behavior Analysis, the approach employed by the majority of U.S. programs for autistic students. That method dictates that teachers and therapists use, “well-established techniques of reward and punishment to shape a student’s actions towards goals like toilet training, learning vocabulary or completing a puzzle.”
At The Community School, by contrast, “classes can look like debates between equals; school days can include board games, sports, plays, science experiments, music, art, ropes courses or rafting trips in which all students and teachers playfully compete, contribute and perform.”
“The idea is to harness a student’s energy and desire to learn,” the Times article notes. “As a student interacts with peers and teachers, solves problems and expresses his ideas, his behavior should naturally begin to lose its rough edges.”
According to the school’s director Dave Nelson, the students are making remarkable gains under the D.I.R. method. He says student attendance rates are higher, their emotional regulation is better, and their “suicidal ideation” isn’t happening at T.C.S. Parents corroborate Mr. Nelson’s reports of success.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.