Helping Neurodiverse Students Access the Curriculum with Emily W. King (Ep 147)
Helping neurodiverse students access the curriculum can be tough! That's exactly why I brought Dr. Emily W. King to the Special Education Inner Circle Podcast! She's been at the IEP table as both a professional and a parent to a child with an IEP, and you're definitely going to want to hear what she's got to say about DIR/floortime.
Dr. Emily King is a Child Psychologist in Raleigh, North Carolina who has worked with children and teens diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, and Autism for the last 20 years. Dr. King received her Ph.D. in School Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and worked as a School Psychologist in Houston, Texas before starting her private practice in Raleigh. She is passionate about helping parents embrace their parenting journey by taking care of their own mental health and finding the best fit of services for their child’s growth and happiness. Dr. King is also a mother to two energetic boys, ages 8 and 14 years old.
Dr. King launched Learn with Dr. Emily (previously On Your Own Path) in 2020 to share online resources related to raising and educating neurodivergent youth beyond her psychology practice. Resources include her blog and online course for parents raising neurodivergent children.
Dr. King has been featured on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and has written for Parents.com, Motherly.com, and TheMighty.com. She has been a guest on multiple podcasts and has been quoted in The New York Times and The Washington Post. You can find Dr. King on Facebook and Instagram where she often shares helpful videos, articles, and resources.
So what is DIR/Floortime?
Development, Individual Differences, and Relationships (DIR), also known as Floortime, can be difficult to study because it's seen as an art and a relationship rather than a concrete structure. Floortime is not one specific therapy, it's a framework. So you may see it in occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, or like Dr. Emily, who uses it to help kids with anxiety feel more comfortable with play as an interaction with others.
A teacher could use DIR/Floortime principles in gaining access to the child through a relationship first, and then use that relationship to build individual skills. Every child is different, but curriculum is standardized - floortime can be key to individualizing a child's access to that curriculum. There's so much flexibility in the framework and principles behind Floortime that can benefit you and your classroom's style.
Parents, don't be overwhelmed by all the jargon! This is an excellent opportunity for you to dig into Floortime research and see if it's something that might help your child and the IEP team succeed.
Accessing the Curriculum
One of the pieces that Dr. Emily is focused on is how we can help students who think differently access the curriculum in their classrooms. There are things that we can do in general education, in a specialized classroom, or even in the greater school community that helps those students engage with the curriculum.
Start with getting curious about the patterns.
What are the patterns that you see a child displaying? Big behaviors get our attention, but they may just be a fluke in the child's personal life. Maybe they didn't get enough sleep, maybe a parent is traveling and their routine is off. Those are things that are temporary that may spike certain emotional responses, but does it fit into a pattern of difficulty? There's always a pattern - even if we can't see it externally. We have to discover if there are internal motivators at play, like hunger, anxiety, or fatigue. This is where your TEAM really needs to work together to find out when the behavior began and what triggered it.
Once we figure out the pattern, we can start to find out what works to alleviate the emotional response of the child. Make sure you tune in around the 10-minute mark to hear Emily's example about School Refusal and how to help a child trust in the transition from home to school.
"But I'm already in crisis mode on this behavior! What do I do to help my student?"
If we're already on the road to a behavior being a pattern, we need to slow down and reestablish the relationship. The child could be stressed out in their environment. Start from Square One to discover where the stress happens in their day, what triggers it, and what works to positively reinforce and encourage learning. "We have to keep peeling the layers of demand back until the student feels capable - we ease the anxiety, we strengthen that relationship, and then we start adding back the challenges as the child is ready to handle that emotionally."
Back to School Strategies
Give your child's teacher a cheat sheet on what is fresh in that child's world that will help hook their engagement in the classroom. It can help jumpstart the connection and helps the teacher build that relationship faster.
Maybe you've made a move to another school or classroom mid-year. Give the teacher some insight into what factors influenced the decision to make that move. Was the last classroom too loud? Did you need a more supportive or specialized environment?
With that transition, you can help ease their anxiety by familiarizing them with the new school or classroom first. Help your student understand their new environment before adding people into the mix.
Dr. Emily wants you to know...
"You may feel that you're the only person in your school building who thinks about things from a relationship perspective, but you're not the only one. There's probably at least one of you in every school out there. There's a growing passion for wanting to connect with students and understanding that the connection and relationship lowers anxiety, lowers these difficult behaviors, and brightens their access for learning."
Here's a glance at the episode...
[2:45] "It's harder to study floortime... because it's more like a dance in the playroom with the child."
[8:00] "Maybe they didn't get enough sleep, maybe a parent is traveling and their routine is off. Those are things that are temporary that may spike certain emotional responses, but does it fit into a pattern of difficulty?"
[15:05] "We have to keep peeling the layers of demand back until the student feels capable - we ease the anxiety, we strengthen that relationship, and then we start adding back the challenges as the child is ready to handle that emotionally."
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