Editor’s pick: The best autism intervention is based in attachment

Attachment Parenting is based on more than 60 years of solid, interdisciplinary research into parent-child relationships, from infant bonding and breastfeeding to nurturing touch and discipline. We have a long line of researchers — and advocates helping to incorporate their findings into society — to thank for how we look at families today: that how parents interact with their children matter, in real time and over the lifetime, in child development.

stanley greenspanOne of those scientific greats — recognized by Attachment Parenting International (API) during our 20th Anniversary celebration in 2014 — was the late Stanley Greenspan, an American child psychiatrist who redefined child development. His work led to a change in how parents view the value of nurturing — encouraging them to cultivate connection with their children, excite their child’s interests, and value creativity and curiosity.

Dr. Greenspan also developed Floortime therapy, a treatment approach for children with autism and developmental disabilities that addresses the speech, motor and cognitive skill delays of affected children holistically, via emotional development and interpersonal communication, through the parent-child attachment relationship.

Very simply, Floortime happens when parents get down on the floor and engage with their children through play. Key to Floortime is that the parent enters the child’s games at the child’s development level and follows the child’s lead in those games. A therapist is then able to guide the parents on how to encourage their child to increasingly complex interactions. For example, if the child is tapping an object, the parent could join in by tapping the object in the same manner. To encourage interaction, the parent might then introduce a new object and eventually add a language element.

In observance of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, this week’s featured article is “What We Know About Autism: Separating the Science From the Scandal” in Vogue, written by health journalist Lauren Mechling.

In the article, we learn that autism is no rare medical condition. In fact 1 in 68 American children — more often boys — is on the spectrum. While it appears that the disorder is much more prevalent than it was 40 years ago, high detection rates rooted in being better informed of early signs is at least partly behind this trend.

While the cause of autism remains largely unknown, researchers agree that it is likely a complex mixture of genetic and environmental factors.

Treatment options seem just as vague, with no drug treatments developed specifically for core autism symptoms. The article continues on, identifying that the most effective treatment currently is early detection combined with intervention therapies aimed at helping young children build neural pathways through face-to-face interaction with a caregiver during Floortime.

And that’s thanks to Dr. Greenspan.

API Resources for Parenting & Autism

Many parents of children on the spectrum find attachment-based parenting choices to be critical to developing positive relationships with their children. API has many resources for parents of children with autism, including:

Personal stories on APtly Said, API’s blog —

Mothering autism

Attachment Parenting and autism

Today is World Autism Awareness Day 2010

Saved by Attachment Parenting

How not to practice positive discipline

Professional insight and a few more personal stories on The Attached Family, API’s online magazine —

An Attachment Parenting approach to autism

Autism: Interview with pediatrician Dr. Robert Sears

From heartache to hope: Interview with Leisa Hammett of The Autism Society of Middle Tennessee

A boy brought back from autism

Different, not disordered: Interview with Dr. Barbara Probst

Additional resources from API —

bob searsAudio recording with Dr. Robert Sears about treating autism — only $9

kidswithcamerasThe documentary, “Kids with Cameras,” following children with autism as they learn how to express themselves through films, poems, painting and music — now just $15

Make a “Play” List with Your Kids

My son is seven and a half, attending public school, and  just getting everything done in a day is a challenge. He is exhausted from being around kids all day and I have client emails to send and dishes that need washing. From the alarm in the morning until bedtime, we are negotiating transitions, trying to get things done, and we don’t always have the same wants or needs at the same time. It’s easy to lose connection with each other in the midst of that.

So, I was very interested to hear Brené Brown talking about play in The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting: Raising Children with Courage, Compassion, and Connection. She referenced Stuart Brown, a play researcher, and gave his simple definition of play.

  1. Time spent without purpose
  2. You lose sense of self and don’t feel inhibited or self-conscious
  3. You lose track of time

Play is a great place to connect with our kids (and ourselves), when it’s really play for both of us like when we use our roller skates with our parents back in time. It helps foster the attachment that we build with them as babies, and that can get strained when we’re spending so much time apart or needing to get things done when we’re together.

But there’s a catch. The activity has to feel like play for all the parties if the goal is to play together. Play for my son may include endless LEGO battles, but that feels like work to me. It meets none of the criteria of play.

  • 1) The purpose is to hang out with my child.
  • 2) I feel self-conscious because I don’t really know how or why to have battles.
  • 3) I’m very aware of how much time I’ve spent doing it.

What do you do when play for one of you is miserable, or not fun, for another? Figure out what you both like to play. Brené  Brown sat down with her family and they made a list of what fit the definition of play was for each of them. Check out this list of 50 Fun Indoor Games for Kids from Twin Cities Kids Club! Many activities, like Candyland, did not overlap. But the ones that did went into her Venn Diagram (yes, she made fun of herself for making a Venn Diagram of play, and yes, I totally loved the idea). The overlaps in their diagram helped Brown’s family determine what they’d spend time doing on the weekends, what kinds of vacations they took, or what they’d do together for fun.

The importance of playI loved the idea so much that we made up our own play lists and checked for overlap at our house. Both my son and I love to make up songs and rhymes, lie in the hammock and read a book together, jump at Jumpoline under the disco lights, play some board games (but not others), and many more. We also made a list for things that can feel like play for awhile, but that one or the other of us gets tired of  sooner, and we put those activities on our limited play list. We can do them together, with a time limit, so the other person isn’t having to work to stay interested.

The list has been really helpful. We’re playing UNO more often, have remembered how much we like to play in the water, and the list is a go-to resource when we’re needing extra connection because we’ve been busy or one of us is having a hard day. The conversations we have during or after play are more connective too.

For more ideas about how to integrate play into your parenting, I highly recommend Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen. And for the research behind play, Stuart Brown’s book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul is a fascinating read.

The Importance of Volunteering

We have a familiar face guest blogging for us today – former Managing Editor of the blog of Attachment Parenting International, Melissa Hincha-Ownby! She talks about what volunteering has meant for her family and how volunteering can benefit yours. 

The Importance of Volunteering

by Melissa Hincha-Ownby

The parenting journey starts with giving birth, breastfeeding and attending to your infant’s every need.  As your children get older these decisions change – homeschool, public school or private school?  Sports, the arts or both?  One activity that isn’t as common, but should be, is volunteering.  In my opinion, every child should have the opportunity to volunteer their time with an organization they feel passionate about.

According to the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service, there are many benefits to children serving as volunteers including:

Volunteering promotes healthy lifestyle and choices – children that volunteer are less likely to use drugs, drink alcohol or participate in other at-risk behaviors

Volunteering enhances development – psychological, social and intellectual development growth is enhanced through volunteerism

Volunteering teaches life skills – children that volunteer learn the importance of task completion, reliability, getting along well with others and more

Volunteering improves the community – when children volunteer, they become active and positive participants in their community

Volunteering encourages a lifelong service ethic – children that volunteer grow up to be adults that volunteer

The best way to encourage volunteerism in our children, especially those of us with older children, is to model the behavior.  So much of parenting is about modeling the behavior we want our children to emulate and this holds true for volunteerism.

I first began volunteering with Attachment Parenting International as a new support group leader in 2004.  Now here it is eight years later and I’m still an active volunteer with the organization even though my role has changed over the years.

As I’ve worked on projects for API, I’ve explain to my children what I’m doing and why.  Now, when I take a phone call from a new mom that is worried that her child isn’t sleeping well, my children know that this is part of my volunteer work.  I’ve been volunteering for the majority of my children’s lives and so, for them, volunteerism is normal.

Now my oldest is nearing the age where he can go out and find an organization that he is passionate about and volunteer on his own.  I’m excited to guide him during this new chapter in his life.
For those of you with older children – do they volunteer their time with an organization they are passionate about?



Melissa is an Arizona-based freelance writer that is passionate about parenting, the environment and of course, volunteerism.  Find her at the Mother Nature Network.


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