Dr. Greenspan felt strongly that children should not be simply given a label and put in a diagnostic “box”. While a child may have a diagnosis like ASD, he said that,
“The child may have a disorder or a set of problems, but he is not the disorder. He is a human being with real feeling, real desires, and real wishes.”
By viewing each child as an individual and identifying each of their developmental strengths and weaknesses we can create more effective and comprehensive treatment programs. The final book describing the Greenspan/DIR™ Model is called The Learning Tree. In this book, Dr. Greenspan uses the metaphor of a growing tree to understand how children develop from the ground up. He describes how they strengthen their foundational regulatory systems while also expanding their core social-emotional communication and thinking abilities, leading to the academic, social, and emotional outcomes we hope all children achieve.
He also said that many children were being diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders) based on incomplete or inaccurate information. He felt children who could be warm and connected, especially at home with their families, but still exhibited constrictions/inconsistencies in their communication and social skills, and sometimes exhibited challenging behaviors actually fit into a broader “grey area” he called Regulatory Disorders.
Dr. Greenspan felt that these children could do all or most of the things they need to do for their age, but only when they were feeling calm and comfortable, i.e. regulated. It is not that they were missing the bigger picture abilities for their age, but that their tolerance of stress and challenges prevented them from operating at a high level in all environments and with a broad range of people/situations. Imagine the tree above being skinny with shallow roots. In the case of the tree, the wind would cause it to fall over. In the case of a child, fear, frustration, and anger would lead to a decrease in verbal communication and self-control and would cause the child to withdraw/shutdown or rev-up/act out. The higher level emotional and communication abilities would be inaccessible when stress is present. There are many variations of these Regulatory Disorders, and it’s important to understand each child’s areas of weakness that are contributing to the symptoms.