The Waldon Approach is an integrated therapeutic approach based on the work of Geoffrey Waldon, a paediatric neurologist who, in the 1970-80s, developed a system of ideas and play activities to help those with autistic-like behaviours, autism, developmental delay and/or communication difficulties to ‘learn how to learn’ by building up their ‘general understanding’, which is the basis of all further learning.

Waldon practitioners regard learning difficulties as the result of a lack of ‘general understanding’ and question standard educational practice as inhibiting the learner’s learning through their emphasis on instructive teaching and doing things for the approval of the teaching adult. This creates anxiety and other difficult feelings, including a habit of going through the motions without understanding and emotional engagement in order to ‘get it over and done with’ using minimal effort.

Instead, the activities and materials used in Waldon lessons aim to create enjoyable self-motivating activities that are done for their own sake and for the pleasure of ‘doing it’, i.e. not for praise or to satisfy the expectation of a teaching adult. In fact, it is when unexpected things happen (otherwise also known as ‘mistakes’!) that new understanding happens and real learning occurs. By providing the learner with appropriate guidance and suitably flexible play materials we help to build his basic understanding as well as practicing spatial awareness through exploring and discovering the similarities, differences, regularities and patterns of the world, i.e. learning how to learn.

There are two Kinds of UNDERSTANDING:

General Understanding


Particular/Cultural Understanding

= the foundation of all other learning, cannot be taught, only happens through active movement


= taught to help child to conform to the rules of the society in which he lives

Learning from experience: spontaneous trial-error exploration of ‘how do things work?’


Teaching by adult of ‘this is how we do things’, discouraging spontaneous exploration

No right or wrong: before rules


About right and wrong: Rules must be followed

Self-motivated + curiosity to experiment


Told what to do and how

The more effort, the better.   


The less effort, the better.

Child does it for his own enjoyment


Child does it for adult’s approval

The Asocial Lesson allows the child to experience movements/activities that develop his general understanding of ‘how things work’.

  • The facilitator is behind/beside the child to show, prompt and assist, initially hand-over-hand, – without praise.
  • Child may resist at first, because he has never done it before. After a few times, he will begin to understand.
  • AVOID talking (too much) as it distracts the child from figuring out for himself how to understand.
  • Best progress: up to 1 hour every day.
  • The aim is to allow the child to feel and have new experiences about the world, which he may be able to use spontaneously at other times, i.e. avoid testing or teaching.


Geoffrey Waldon distinguished between a ‘primary impediments’, the initial physical/mental problem affecting development, and ‘secondary impediments’, which are learnt behaviours as a result of the primary problem. 

  • Avoidance behaviours such as tantrums, stiffening the body, avoidance/repetitive behaviours, e.g. throwing, screaming, running away, …
  • Self-delighting behaviours, e.g. rocking, spinning, twiddling and other ‘comfort zone behaviours’, – could also include throwing, screaming, head banging, …

ACTIVITIES (use real objects before pictures):

Objects are put down one at a time in front of the child, who picks each one up and puts it into the target container

  • Placing: picking things up and putting them down, grasping, holding on and letting go
  • Piling: by piling things up children discover the properties of objects, e.g. weight, size, texture, how things move and fall if put on top of another
  • Banging is the basis of a child’s ability to grasp, hold and make use of tools, e.g. spoon, wiping, drawing
  • Pairing: recognising sameness/ difference and bringing together objects that are the same
  • Matching: learning about similarities/ differences, e.g. objects that are similar or belong together
  • Sorting: recognising that objects can be the same/similar and can be grouped into sets/categories, which requires a firm foundation of placing, pairing and matching, e.g. colours, animals, furniture, vehicles, …
  • Sequencing: complex form of thinking with linear movement: stacking, daily routines, action rhymes/songs, rhythm, dressing, speech, e.g. bigger/smaller, more/less, red-blue-red-blue, O+|O+|O+|, …
  • Brick-building: understanding of 3-dimensional complex relationships between different objects and forces, i.e. understanding spatial relationships, – requires firm foundation of placing, piling, matching and sorting
  • Scribbling and drawing: understanding 2-dimensional space, necessary for understanding symbols
  • Coding is the process by which one thing can be allowed to stand for another. It can only develop when the other learning-to-learn-tools are in place and interconnecting.


  1. Early stage understanding will be reinforced by: Banging, Scraping, Placing … leading to
  2. Precursor stage = ‘continuant behaviour’ = the ability to keep going: Pairing, Separating, Sequencing, Piling and Scribbling … leading to
  3. Learning-to-Learn-Tools which are Matching, Sorting, Seriation, Brick Building, Drawing and Coding


  • Faster –  more items  –  different objects  –  in different places  –  objects spread over a wider area
  • Containers nearer/further –  in a different place  –  at different angle  –  left/right  –  on the floor  – in movement
  • Different containers: jar, dish, cup, box, bottle, … (not) transparent –  with small hole/slit…
  • Different containers in different positions: some up, some down, some near, some far …

16 Key Strategies for DIRFloortime Play

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