Why I Don’t Recommend Floortime

ableism, Autism, Books, Disability, Infodumping, Neurodiversity, Parenting, Writing

In many conversations about autism therapies, I’ve seen Floortime recommended as an alternative to ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis). I’ve frequently spoken up in those conversations to caution people about Floortime, giving my elevator pitch for why I don’t recommend it. That elevator pitch/TLDR version goes something like this:

Though the real-time practice of Floortime can be a much kinder therapy with some aspects that can be beneficial to autistic children, the core concept and underlying philosophy are still highly neuronormative (holding neurotypical standards as the norm), biased against autistic development as equally valid, and include some outright harmful techniques.

I’ve long wanted to write a full blog post reviewing Floortime, because my critique is a bit nuanced and I completely understand why people would find Floortime appealing based on a cursory description of the practice. I’m also guessing that people have seen or participated in Floortime sessions that seemed innocuous at worst and maybe even wonderful at the time, because I bet a lot of people are only partially adhering to the method.

What is Floortime?

If you haven’t heard of Floortime before (also known as D.I.R./Floortime, its trademarked name), it is a therapy for children with developmental disabilities that was developed by child psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan in the 1980s and 90s. Floortime builds on play between the child and their parents or primary caregivers to strengthen the child-caregiver relationship, support the child’s emotional development, and through the method, boost the child’s overall development.

The Floortime website has a good outline of their methods in “Greenspan Floortime: What It Really Is” by Stanley Greenspan and Jake Greenspan. (Stanley passed away in 2010, and his son Jake now runs the Floortime Center; for the purposes of this post all future references to Greenspan will refer to Stanley). I will pull quotes from this article below as I dissect this method and parse out the good, the bad, and problematic.

How is Floortime Different from ABA?

Though there is much that is ableist, neuronormative and specifically anti-autistic in Greenspan’s work, I want to acknowledge that there is also a good deal of empathy and sensitivity, and that there are some concepts in Floortime worth extracting and preserving.

DIR/Floortime is commonly perceived as a kind of anti-ABA by people who are looking for a kinder alternative to ABA – and for good reason. When Greenspan was studying to become a child psychiatrist in the 1960s, he was learning mainly about behaviorism, particularly the work of BF Skinner; behaviorism reduces human behavior to little more than a set of responses to stimuli, and Skinner contributed the idea that thoughts and feelings could also be controlled via reinforcement and/or punishment. This “operant conditioning” technique was the basis for ABA.

Greenspan felt this was the wrong way to approach supporting children – he felt that the emotional life of the child was more important than their behaviors, especially in their relationship with their primary caregiver(s). So to the extent that his work is a reaction to, and counter argument against, the practice ABA it is an alternative in a real way.

Ivar Lovaas, the founder of ABA, believed that autistic children were literally not people, and that shaping their behavior by force was the way to make them into one: “One way to look at the job of helping autistic kids is to see it as a matter of constructing a person. You have the raw materials, but you have to build the person.” (Text from Psychology Today interview, 1974.) To Lovaas, the autistic child was a completely different sort of being than a typical child – something less, something incomplete.

Stanley Greenspan, by contrast, asserts that all children fundamentally have the same emotional lives and psychological needs. “They may have a disorder or a set of problems, but they are not the disorder or set of problems.  They are human beings with real feelings and real desires and real wishes. […]The ultimate aim is to form a close relationship. It all begins with the relationship between the caregiver and the child.” (Emphases from original text.) If anything, Greenspan minimizes children’s diagnoses too much, failing to regard neurodiversity as a basic truth of being human, but certainly his views on children are far more humane than those of the founder of ABA.

Where Does Floortime Go Wrong? 

According to the Greenspans,

“Floortime has three steps for reaching these goals, and they all need to work together for Floortime to be successful. They are: 

1.     Following the child’s lead and joining the child’s world,”

I’m fine with Floortime practice through step one. And I think that in the real world, people often only take it as far as this first step. So, to the extent that people are doing Floortime incorrectly and only joining the child’s world, I approve! In fact, I’ll circle back around to highlight the positives in step one and outline the element of Floortime that we can steal or separate from the rest.

The problem, of course, is that Greenspan himself takes pains to emphasize that step one alone is NOT what Floortime is about, that it hinges on following through with steps two and three –

“Now we are talking about the real skill in doing Floortime, its real infrastructure.

2.     Pulling them into a shared world, often by challenging,
3.     Helping them master the Developmental Stages by expanding on their interest.

“We do not simply stay in their world following their actions.”

This is where Floortime goes off the rails.

[Note: I am going to use the word stimming in this section, for brevity’s sake and as a reclaimed word, with acknowledgment that many autistic people do not want to reclaim it or use it.]

“Floortime’s second step ‘challenge’ can be used in two different ways. One is to start the initial interaction with a child when they are ignoring you. The other is to expand the interaction once you have their attention. In this case, it’s to solve the avoidance problem.” (Emphasis mine)

For autistic children especially, Greenspan puts an almost tyrannical emphasis on neurotypical social skills as developmental goalposts. Where a child might simply desire a bit of solitude or be enjoying a deep absorption in a particular activity or interest, Greenspan sees “an avoidance problem.”

In his book The Child With Special Needs, which I read a few years ago, Greenspan goes into quite a bit more detail on this aspect of the Floortime philosophy. While he does not seek to extinguish stimming or “autistic behaviors” such as hand flapping, the way ABA does, he does insist that such behaviors should always be used by caregivers to initiate social play. He states unequivocally that autistic children should never be allowed to stim alone, and in fact should never be allowed to be alone for any significant period of time – they should be pulled into social interactions as much as humanly possible (possible for the caregivers, that is).

This is where my critique of Floortime may get tricky or nuanced in a way that is confusing for non-autistics who haven’t tried – or don’t even desire – to de-center neurotypical social skills in their minds. It’s not that Greenspan views autistic stimming as bad or something to crush out of the child – as Lovaas did – it’s that he can only see solitary activities as developmentally regressive.

From the Floortime website: “There are different types of ways to create “downtime” if your child has autism, notes Dr. Greenspan. “If you have a child with autism that is capable of reading a book, that’s terrific; give them regular down time. If the child is capable of doing a crossword, that’s great; give them regular downtime and then balance it through the day. If your child with autism is only capable of self-stimulatory play (self-stimming) where they’re rubbing a spot on the floor, or lining up their toys, or self-injurious activities where they’re banging their head, we want to minimize that kind of downtime because it’s destructive,” urges Dr. Greenspan.”

As an example of neurotypical bias, the above paragraph is excellent. Lumping in self injury with the pleasure of lining up one’s toys is insulting to autistic children – oversimplifying their emotional and behavioral complexity to the point of nonsense. And elevating interests like crossword puzzles or reading is nothing more than ableist, anti-autistic bigotry.

I happen to strongly agree with Greenspan that a trusting, emotionally secure relationship between an autistic child and their parent(s)/caregiver(s) is the basis of the child’s development. But unfortunately, because Greenspan is unable to imagine either  non-typical social-emotional bonding or non-typical healthy child development, his prescriptions for how to achieve a healthy parent-child relationship and how to support the child’s development are inherently anti-autistic and counterproductive.

So even though Greenspan doesn’t set out to extinguish autistic behavior intentionally like ABA does, this happens as a serious and unavoidable side effect of Floortime, because its model for “emotional healthy development” excludes most forms of autistic relating and bonding and social skills and behaviors.

To put things even more simply, solitary activities and parallel play, two pillars of autistic wellbeing, are NOT part of Floortime practice or philosophy. Parallel play is permitted only as a brief gateway to directly interactive social play. Any therapy that seeks to override normal healthy autistic activities is not a respectful, supportive therapy for autistic children.

How is Floortime sometimes similar to ABA? 

Because Greenspan’s child development model is neuronormative, at times it resembles some of the ugliest aspects of ABA therapy, which traditionally states “normalization” as a goal (ABA practitioners are now savvy enough to avoid such off-putting terminology, but that end goal is still very much baked into the cake.)

Greenspan teaches parents an array of manipulative techniques meant to “challenge” children – really what this is about, of course, is pushing them to use more neurotypical social skills to get what they want.

“Sometimes we can start the interaction by doing something to the child that we know they enjoy, especially physical activity such as a little tickle game or a horsey ride.  Children love to get on daddy’s shoulders and move a lot.  But then how do we get the child to do to us?  As soon as he is up on our shoulders, he has to gesture or make a sound to show us that he wants the horse to move more or he wants the airplane to go again.  We challenge the child to take initiative.”

Among the manipulations he recommends is “playing dumb,” to push the child to use more neurotypical social communication:

“Now we have shared attention, engagement, purposeful action, and some problem solving: real thinking. Words, “truck, truck, move,” often follow soon. But there’s more to be done. We begin to give his choices, expanding the play:  “Do you want to move it into the tunnel or the house?”  He goes, “Ha, ho” indicating “house” and points.  We ‘play dumb’—another type of challenge—and ask if he wants the truck in the house or on our head. He laughs and points to the house again.”

And of course, a central tenet of Floortime – step three – is to use the child’s interests to push them to “master the developmental stages,” which of course means neurotypical stages. ABA may exploit a child’s interests in harsher ways, but they share this common practice of using those interests as levers, as manipulative tools to employ in the work of teaching an autistic child to imitate neurotypical social skills better.

“With the child who wants to go out the door, we make it into a 10-step interaction rather than one.  “Well, mommy can’t open the door. Get daddy.”  The child pulls on daddy, and daddy has a hard time too.  “Can you show me? Do I turn or pull the knob?” and the child shows you.  The child can make a sound to make the door open and so forth, until you get 10 circles of communication rather than one of simply opening the door.”

This advice of playing dumb and manipulating the child to “expand” their communication is one that he emphasizes as especially important for autistic children, whom he says have the most difficulty in sustaining long chains of social interactions. This too is neuronormative in that it devalues the autistic child’s natural communicative abilities and needs – to get their message across in a minimum of words or gestures, to simplify social interactions and conserve their own resources.

But even worse, I feel that it sadly undermines the stated goal of building a trusting relationship between the parent and child. Intentionally frustrating a child does not build trust – quite the opposite. And I believe Greenspan greatly underestimates the ability of young autistic children to pick up on when they’re being manipulated, when a parent is “playing dumb,” and when a parent is essentially pretending to play and enter the child’s world while barely concealing a hidden agenda to push their “development.”

We are always trying to broaden the child’s capacities in terms of their current milestones — strengthening and broadening those and introducing the next one.  If they are a little purposeful, we want them to be very purposeful.  If they can open and close three or four circles of communication (back-and-forth’s with gestures or words) we want to get it to seven and eight and then to ten and twenty until we get 50 or more.

“Greenspan Floortime is for all the time.”

What do children learn when they are constantly being pushed to do more and more? That they are never quite good enough in their parent’s eyes.

Ask Me How I Know


Though I still feel some shame admitting it, I take a hard line against Floortime now because I know from personal experience the harm it can do. A few years ago, on the advice of an occupational therapist, I not only read one of Greenspan’s books, I paid almost $100 for one of his online courses. (Please please do not fall for this tremendous ripoff, which consists of a series of poorly produced videos covering material that you can learn easily for free elsewhere.)

I tried doing Floortime at home with my son, but not for long, because even though he was only about 3 or 4 years old at the time, he very quickly caught on to my scheme and stopped playing with me altogether. It took considerable time to rebuild the trust he lost in me when I tried approaching every opportunity to play with him as a therapy session – and worse, he hardly had a chance to play by himself with me popping in to intrude several times a day!

And that’s not even touching how intensely draining it was for me as an autistic person to attempt to be socially engaged all the livelong day. If I couldn’t stand it and I’m an adult who had had 30+ years experience pretending to be neurotypical, I can hardly imagine how unbearable Floortime is for an autistic child!

What Can We Borrow and Steal from Floortime?

However, as mentioned above, I do feel that there are some positive, beneficial elements of Floortime that can be extracted and preserved.

All parents of autistic children would do well to focus on building up their relationships with their children – establishing and reinforcing trust, connection, and emotional security. If parents of newly diagnosed/identified autistic children feel confused or overwhelmed by questions and information, I think they would do quite well to make that relationship with their child a sort of lighthouse in their family life. If a parent feels completely unsure of how to proceed with issues of therapy and education and so on, I think it would serve them well to hit pause on all of that and just concentrate on making sure their child is able to trust them and be safe in their care.

If I could be Floortime Noncompliant and disobey Greenspan’s instructions to follow through with steps two and three, I could endorse Floortime Step One as a therapeutic practice for parents of autistic children. At some points in his books and videos, Stanley Greenspan is almost poetic in the way he urges neurotypical parents to join their child’s activities, describing the way what might appear at first to be “nothing” is almost surely something to the child.

The end goal of using a child’s interests to further the therapy agenda is wrong, but the way of getting there can and should be an end in itself: join in, if your child is agreeable to it. Not all the time, not against their will, but slowing down and trying to see what they see, hear what they hear, feel what they feel, appreciate what they love, is worth it. If you’re neurotypical perhaps you’ll never fully understand what’s so captivating and beautiful about the fringe along a blanket’s end, the spinning of a ceiling fan, but when you try, your child sees that what matters to them… matters. It’s not silly or bad or nothing. And that is such an important cornerstone of a trusting relationship with your child. Especially for autistic people, who love what we love so deeply, having our interests validated by people we care about is one of the best, most fundamental supports we can receive.


What Autism Safety Really Means

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education, Infographics, Writing

Last month I participated in a panel discussion on the topic of Autism Safety at a conference hosted by a local autism organization.

The two hottest takes when it comes to “Autism Safety” – in the “autism community,” that is – always seem to be wandering/elopement and police interactions.

Elopement or wandering refer to the problem of autistic children (not always children, but almost always) who run off unattended, often leaving an enclosed space like their home or school. And, as a parent myself, I do understand this worry – to an extent. Naturally the idea of one’s child getting lost and/or getting into dangerous situations takes one’s breath away to even imagine.

But in the grand scheme of an autistic life, how pressing is this issue really? Parent-led organizations sometimes run scary stories about the dangers of elopement. Recent studies have shown that about half of autistic children elope at least once, and half of those elope long enough to cause serious concern. That does sound worrying, but let’s keep this number in mind and I’ll return to it in a moment: 25% of autistic children have significant elopement incidents. Other factors to keep in mind: most of those children are nonverbal, and elopement peaks at age 5.

The other hot topic in safety is about police interactions. And while I whole heartedly agree that this is a key safety issues for autistic people, I find the ways that autism parent communities and neurotypical-led organizations discuss this issue tend to be highly problematic: most notably, that they ignore the racial issues at the heart of the danger. Skirting the autism-race interaction in conversations about police and first responders not only makes our conversations about safety incomplete, it also makes our proposed solutions severely inadequate at best.

What the parent community’s hot safety takes amount to tends to be a clamor for more neurotypical (NT) control over autistic people. Wandering? Police interaction? For NT parents and experts, the solutions are about GPS tracking devices, autism registrations, and more compliance training for autistics.

These solutions themselves are indicators of racial erasure. I think anyone who pauses for even one minutes to consider how those solutions might work for a black or brown autistic person could see how deeply flawed they are. How would a black family in America be affected by being in an autism registry or GPS service with their local police department? What kinds of issues might arise for a population that is already at risk of being racially profiled? What is the likelihood they would sign up for this voluntarily, given the downsides? Can you imagine a black autistic parent, or a Latinx immigrant family, being willing to be on such a registry?

And where to even begin with pushing more compliance training on non-white autistics. How well has compliance worked for black Americans historically in this country, when it comes to keeping them safe in police interactions? Eric Garner said it best: I can’t breathe.

My presentation on Autism Safety to my local community was cut short, as the moderator verbally nudged me to move on from the topic of safety – they mostly wanted me to list my credentials as a “self-advocate” and then sit down.

What I wanted to tell them is that NT parent/expert control of autistic people, stripping us of autonomy, and ramping up compliance training, all compound the most serious dangers we face in our lives. When parents, teachers, and autism “experts” have tunnel vision that focuses on autism itself as our main threat, they actively endanger us. I understand why they are reluctant to look at the real safety issues we face, because many of those issues are coming from them.

I’ll remind you now of the figure above that told us 25% of autistic children have seriously concerning elopement incidents, peaking at age 5.

Now let me tell you about what Autism Safety really means:

Abuse and Violence
  • Disabled children are 3.5 times more likely to be abused or neglected than non-disabled children
  • Disabled people are 3 times more likely to be victims of serious crime than non-disabled people
  •  Exact figures are unknown, but numerous studies have estimated that the number of people killed in police interactions who were disabled is at least 50%, and likely much higher as these calculations under-count people with psychiatric disabilities
  • Black people are nearly 3 times as likely to be killed by police than white people; therefore, we MUST include racial issues in addressing autism safety with law enforcement
Psychological Effects
  • 70% of autistic people also have a psychiatric disability such as depression or anxiety
  • 30-50% of autistic people have reported having suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • 60-80% of autistic students report being bullied at school
  • 40% of parents of autistic students report their children were bullied
  • 22% of those who were bullied report being bullied all the time”
Restraint & Seclusion
  • While only 12% of public school students are disabled (covered by IDEA), 75% of students restrained at school are disabled and 58% of students secluded and isolated at school are disabled.
  • 25% of arrests and referrals to police are disabled students – that means a disabled student is twice as likely to be arrested for a disciplinary incident at school.
  • Federal data shows public schools reported 163,000 incidents of students being restrained in one school year.
  • 40% of students restrained at school are autistic
  • 50% of students secluded/isolated at school are autistic
  • Of the disabled student population, only 19% are black, but they make up 36% of those who are restrained and secluded – this means that among disabled students, black children are twice as likely to be restrained and secluded
  • 7,600 of the incidents of restraint involved mechanical restraints (i.e. not restrained merely with school staff’s hands/arms)
  • Students were secluded in scream rooms” 104,000 times in that school year
  • 20 public school students died while being restrained at school between 1988-2008
  • In many states (including mine), there are no legal restrictions on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools

Many of these risks to autistic children are much more prevalent and dangerous than the risk of elopement, and many continue to affect autistic people throughout our lives – as our high rates of depression and anxiety show. And yet, these are the dangers that are rarely discussed by parents and autism organizations. These risks do not seem to inspire as many panel discussions, safety curricula, training sessions, and special safety programs. Perhaps because, by and large, they require change on the parts of the everyone else but the autistic child.

Even more crucially, the parent/expert safety programs that are most popular – the GPS trackers, registries, and compliance training – actually put autistic people at greater risk to our real threats: abuse, victimization, discrimination, isolation, and psychological trauma. Trackers, registries, and compliance make us LESS SAFE. Worst of all, they will have the strongest negative effects on the segment of the autistic population that is already the most vulnerable – you know, the ones we never talk about? – those of us who are not white.

Of course we can’t wait around for mainstream culture to protect us, so here are some safety tips you can really use. And please see my Autism Safety PDF for more information and sources for all of the above statistics.

  • For Autistic People:
    • learn how to recognize and report abuse
    • learn what to do if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal
    • learn how to avoid interactions with law enforcement
    • advocate for community change that lessens the frequency of interactions with LE, and the risks of violence during interactions with LE
    • learn what to do if you get lost or need help in public spaces
  • For Families: 
    • learn to recognize and respond to signs of abuse, neglect, and bullying
    • learn strategies to reduce the risk of LE involvement and violence
    • learn to recognize and respond when someone you love feels suicidal
    • teach your loved one survival skills, including a safety plan for getting lost 
  • extra tip: medical ID bracelets are safer than ID cards or registries!

Social Skills for Everyone

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education, Friendship, Infographics, Neurodiversity, Parenting

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

[Each of the slides above has its own image description. Slideshow can be paused for ease of reading text. Full transcript at the end of this post, with a downloadable PDF.]

Issues of social inclusion are often persistent throughout a disabled person’s lifespan. Lack of inclusion can be a vicious cycle if non-disabled people are unfamiliar with how to include and interact with disabled people in their community:

1. disabled people are excluded, are segregated to disabled-only spaces, and/or withdraw from community life when they are socially rejected

2. non-disabled people continue to have social spaces and groups that have no disabled people in them, and they never become familiar or intimately connected with disabled people

3. disabled people continue to be rejected or excluded by non-disabled people who are unfamiliar with how to include us


How do we break this cycle? Traditionally, most of the onus has been on disabled people to assimilate and “normalize,” but this not only doesn’t work well, it’s unfair and ableist. Mainstream culture is beginning to realize that non-disabled need to do more to include us without trying to “fix” us, but it’s crucial to understand that acceptance is more than just a feeling. It’s a series of actions, and for most it will require some learning and listening to disabled people.

I have a dream that parents of non-disabled children will begin to talk to their kids about disability, as early and as often as possible. Just as with other issues of discrimination, it’s not enough to trust that your kids will be “nice” – even nice, lovely, kind hearted children may discriminate against or exclude disabled children if they simply do not know how to include them, and don’t understand people who are different from themselves in ways that a child can easily perceive.

This guide is a start. Please please share it with your kids and talk to them about what disability inclusion means. It’s not about pity or charity, it’s about equality.

Social Skills for Everyone PDF


Infographic cover has the title Social Skills for Everyone,” subtitle making friends and getting along.” Above the title are two human figures, one waving their arms with a speech bubble saying hi!” and the other with arms akimbo and a speech bubble containing ellipses. 
Page One.
Infographic text says: You might have noticed… there are all kinds of people in the world. no two are exactly alike. Not even twins! You probably won’t be friends with everyone you meet (and that’s ok!) but learning to get along with people makes life a little better for all of us.” One group of human figures is multicolored, with a green figure waving and saying hello!” A pair of orange figures who look the same as each other stand side by side, one saying I love drawing comic books” and the other saying I don’t draw. But I love Minecraft!” 
Page Two.
Infographic text says: There isn’t only one right way” to socialize… Just like there isn’t only one way to play! Everyone has their own style figure adds, and I think that’s cool!’ and learning someone else’s style is how you include someone new figure adds, and hey, remember… next time, the new person… could be you!’” Bottom image shows a green figure standing in foreground holding/touching their own head, with other figures in the background playing and one waving in greeting to the green new person.
Page Three.
Infographic text says: When you meet someone new… it’s nice to greet them and ever nicer to invite them to talk or play with you.” Image shows two human figures in foreground and two more playing in the background. A green figure waves and says to the orange figure, Hi, I’m Alex. Do you want to play tag with us?’ More text: but what if they don’t answer?” The green figure stands with a question mark thought bubble, while the orange figure touches/holds their own head and stands with a thought bubble containing ellipses.
Page Four.
Infographic text says: It might NOT mean they don’t want to play. Try this! Wait a few more seconds some people just need a little more time to answer questions or think of what to say.” Orange figure has a speech bubble that says …………okay!’ Move so they can see your face some people need to read your lips while you talk.” Two green heads in profile face each other, one with sound waves around mouth. Ask in a different way if they aren’t sure how to answer, using different words might help.” Green figure points to the side and says to orange figure, He’s it.” Let’s run!’ Or maybe just try again later. They might not be ready to join in yet, and that’s okay too!
Page Five.
Infographic text says: Some people do not speak at all (or not very much) but you can still include them! People who don’t speak communicate in other ways, like: Body Language! (orange figure in a variety of poses/gestures), using their voice in other ways (orange laughing face with speech bubble hahaha!’) or even using an app on a tablet! (orange figure holds a black tablet which has a dialog box saying okay. let’s play!’)
Page Six.
Infographic text says: When you meet someone who seems different, you might notice that they look, talk, or act differently than anyone else you’ve met before.” A green figure stands touching/holding their own head with a question mark thought bubble. It’s okay to ask polite questions.” A green figure asks, Does that hurt?’ to an orange figure with a small red mark on their face, who responds, No. It’s just a birthmark.’ More text: It’s good to celebrate our differences AND remember we aren’t all that different on the inside we all pretty much want the same things: to be accepted, to feel we belong, and to have fun doing things we enjoy.” At the bottom is a row of human figures: a green one with arms akimbo, orange one with heart-shaped birthmark, gray one waving arms, green one with headphones high-fiving a gray one with an orange wheelchair.
Image is a photo of a pair of dice, with text: Despite the eminent fairness of the rules, some of the players claimed to be at a disadvantage. Everyone began with the same amount of cash and had an equal opportunity to win the game each month, so if a player lost it was surely a lack of skill and perhaps a bit of bad luck? - "The Monopoly Game," erinhuman.com

The Monopoly Game

There once was a town whose bylaws required that the residents play a game: an ancient board game called Monopoly. Since the townspeople were all descended from four families, one representative from each family played the game on their family group’s behalf once per month. And since, as per the laws of the town, each family representative had always played with the same game piece, their clans had come to be known by the names of their assigned tokens. Thus, the town was made up of the Top Hats, the Boots, the Thimbles, and the Irons. 


At each monthly game, no matter what had happened the previous month, the players began with a fresh start. All started from the same point on the board with an equal distribution of cash, in the interest of fairness, naturally. Everyone played by the same basic rules, one turn per player, unless the player rolled doubles and could move twice, and so on. This was satisfactory to the players, as reported in the monthly Monopoly Review, published by the Top Hat family for all the townspeople to read and follow the progress of the games.


However, there were complaints, improbably enough. Despite the eminent fairness of the rules, some of the players claimed to be at a disadvantage. The Top Hats politely pointed out that everyone began with the same amount of cash and had an equal opportunity to win the game each month, so if a player lost it was surely a lack of skill and perhaps a bit of bad luck?


The Boot clan, it seemed, was especially upset. In fact they insisted the game was quite unfair: while it was true that everyone started with the same amount of cash, it was also true that the Top Hats always began with Illinois Avenue, B&O Railroad, and a house on Tennessee. What’s more, the Top Hats also had two Get Out of Jail Free cards at the start of every game!


The Thimbles and the Irons both chimed in that they felt disadvantaged by having to buy into each game with a payment of $200 to even begin it, despite being required by law to play in the first place, lest they be cast out of town.


Alas, the Top Hat clan felt much abused by all the griping among the other players. Again they had to stress that all of the conditions of the game were written into the very rules since the founding of the town that couldn’t be helped. And at any rate, they didn’t agree at all that their clan had an advantage. Anyone at all could buy and sell and win the game, beginning as they had with a fresh slate of equal cash and starting points on the board. If the Boots were so concerned about Illinois Avenue, why, they could make an offer! The Top Hats would be happy to sell, at the right price.


Sure, the Top Hats had won every game for as long as the Monopoly Review had been published, but that was because they simply were better, and tried harder. Perhaps if the Boots or Thimbles or Irons spent as much time studying up on the game and improving their strategies as they did moaning and groaning about whether the rules were fair, they could win a few.


The other players refused to concede. It was high time, they said, the rules of the game were changed. Everyone knew that the Top Hat family had written the rules in the first place. In fact it was said that the inventor of the Monopoly game, the one who included in the town bylaws that it must be played as a requirement for town residency, was the original Top Hat! The Boots suggested they should start the game with the cash equivalent of the Top Hats’ starting property value. The Thimbles proposed that they begin the game on credit and pay their clan’s buy-in only after they passed GO. The Irons went further and requested their buy-in be eliminated outright.


Now the Top Hats were quite offended. There was no need to change the rules, as the rules were entirely fair, and anyway, they were essential to the design of the game, built in for important reasons, by the game’s original inventor. Why should the Boots or Thimbles or Irons get special advantages, just because they kept losing? Why should the Top Hat member playing this month be punished and set back from his usual place, when he’d had nothing to do with writing the rules? He was only playing by them like everyone else, and so should the other players. And in the end, they couldn’t change the rules of the game unless the Top Hat clan agreed to the changes, so that was that.


Tensions rose and rose in the town. I’m sorry to say things got quite ugly at some of the games, as was reported in the monthly news bulletin published by the Top Hats. The Monopoly Review ran stories of Iron players cheating, Thimbles throwing a game to make a point, once or twice a Boots player even attempted to overturn the board. The Top Hats in town were horrified. They could see something had to be done, but none could agree on what to do.


Many Top Hats decided to be nicer to the other clans perhaps especially the Boots, as they seemed so aggrieved. Some Top Hats even came to games and cheered on the other teams, to boost their morale. Yet none of them, Boots, Thimbles, nor Irons, seemed to appreciate the kindness and sympathy of the Top Hats cheering for them; perhaps, the Top Hats wondered sadly, the others were simply poor sports after all.


A few Top Hats considered some concessions to the other players’ grievances; some conciliatory measures that would mend hurt feelings. Maybe they should give the Boots some extra cash to start the game not the full equivalent of the Top Hat properties, that would be too extravagant and punish the current Top Hat player unfairly but $100 or so, perhaps. A few Top Hats thought they should adopt the Thimble idea of letting them play on credit until they passed go. The main thing, of course, was they had to work with the game they had, maintaining order by making only minor tweaks. It wouldn’t do to punish the Top Hats of today for the original Top Hat’s lack of foresight. 


But still others in the Top Hat clan felt emphatically that enough was enough; the other players had shown themselves time and again to be not only losers, but poor sports, and if they couldn’t play by the rules, they would simply have to go. In the meantime, one thing was for sure there would be stricter security measures at all Monopoly games from now on. 


Dear readers, I’m afraid I have misled you if I have told this story in such a way that you were expecting a tidy resolution, a moral perhaps… or indeed any resolution at all. The truth is, the ending of this story has not yet been written. 
diversity is beautiful cartoon

Diversity is Beautiful

ableism, Autism, comics, Disability, Education, Infographics, Neurodiversity

One of the most frequent questions I hear from parents of autistic children is, “how do I tell them they are autistic?” They want to explain autism to their child in a positive way; to frame the information as something that empowers.

My favorite way to approach conversations about autism and other forms of disability, especially (but not only!) with children, is rather than singling out the autistic or otherwise disabled child, begin with the larger context of diversity.

Diversity is, after all, an essential ingredient in a thriving natural environment; it is valuable for its own sake.

What I love about this approach is that it de-centers any one “typical” way of being, unlike the old way of explaining autism as a brain with a set of deficits that makes it something other than normal. There is no one correct or even best kind of brain, any more than there is one correct or best kind of dog or bird.

I have this “Diversity is Beautiful” cartoon for sale in my shop, on posters and mugs and a bunch of other cool products. If you choose to purchase something from there, your support is greatly appreciated! But I am also offering free printable PDFs (see below) so that anyone may use this information. As with all of my infographics, you have permission use these for personal, educational, and any other not-for-profit purpose, retaining credit to me (and any other sources listed in my graphics).

diversity is beautiful cartoon

The Simple version of Diversity is Beautiful gives you more space to create your own accessible explanations for the concepts in the image. I recommend this one for audiences with less complex receptive language and/or reading skills.

Image description: title is “diversity is beautiful.” First row of drawings shows a variety of animals, with the caption “diversity in the animal world.” Second row shows an assortment of kids: from left to right is a person with a limb (arm) difference, person using a wheelchair, person with no visible disability, person signing “hello,” person using forearm crutches, person wearing glasses, person using a white/probing cane. Caption is “diversity of people.” Third row shows four heads with smiling faces and on foreheads are drawings of multicolored brains, caption is “diversity of human brains.” ©Erin Human 2017

Printable PDF:
Diversity is Beautiful (Simple)

"diversity is beautiful" cartoon w explanations

The version called Diversity is Beautiful (Explained) has a more lengthy explanation for each form of diversity shown. This is a nice choice for anyone who does not wish to create their own script, or would like people to be able to access the image’s concepts independently (for example, as a poster in a school classroom).

Image description: title is “diversity is beautiful.” First row of drawings shows a variety of animals, with the caption “diversity in the animal world / there are millions of different kinds of animals – more than we can count!” Second row shows an assortment of kids: from left to right is a person with a limb (arm) difference, person using a wheelchair, person with no visible disability, person signing “hello,” person using forearm crutches, person wearing glasses, person using a white/probing cane. Caption is “diversity of people / people come in a great variety of shapes, sizes, genders, abilities, and appearances – we are all unique!” Third row shows four heads with smiling faces and on foreheads are drawings of multicolored brains, caption is “diversity of human brains / no two brains are alike, but we have names for different types – like ADHD, autistic, dyslexic, typical, & more!” ©Erin Human 2017

Printable PDF:
Diversity is Beautiful (Explained)




Disability 101: Medical Model vs Social Model

ableism, Autism, Disability, Infographics

Disability 101
Medical Model vs Social Model

[image of a question mark]
what is a “model” of disability?
In this case, “model” means a certain way of thinking about disability.
what is the Social Model of Disability?
To understand this concept, it’s useful to compare it to the “medical model” of disability.

[table with Medical Model bullet points at left, vs Social Model bullet points at right]

Medical Model:
The person is disabled by the abnormalities and deficits of their own body and/or brain.
Social Model:
The person is disabled by their environment and its physical, attitudinal, communication, and social barriers.

Medical Model:
Disabled people are broken, abnormal, or damaged versions of human being and should be fixed, cured, and/or prevented.
Social Model:
Disabled people are normal, valid varieties of human being and should have equal rights and access to society, just as they are.

Medical Model:
Since the disabled person’s impairments prevent them from functioning normally, they need caregivers and professionals to make decisions for them. The disabled person is an object of charity and receiver of help.
Social Model:
Since the disabled person is inherently equal, they have a right to autonomy, choice, and free and informed consent in their own lives.

Medical Model:
The disabled person should adjust to fit into society, since they are the one who is not normal. Being part of society means rising above disability.
Social Model:
The disabled person should be supported by society, because they are equal and have a right to inclusion. Their community should adjust its own barriers and biases.

the Social Model of Disability matters…
because disabled people are your equals. We can’t achieve true inclusion in society if we are seen as lesser, even in a seemingly benevolent way!
ALL disabled people have a right to autonomy, no matter how much support they need to communicate their choices.
[image of exclamation point]

sources: People with Disability Australia pwd.org.au; Satu Järvinen, From Shame to Pride: Empowerment of People with Cerebral Palsy, satujarvinen.com; Get A Plan, getaplan.org.uk

© Erin Human 2017

Printable PDF can be downloaded for free below:
Disability 101: Medical Model vs Social Model



Autism 101

Autism, Disability, Infographics, Neurodiversity

autism 101

Autism 101

a simple neurodiversity-based explanation
[image of head with brain]

what is autism?

Autism is type of brain wiring (neurological type) that processes information differently than typical brains do.
[image of head with abstract wiring pattern]

This means that autistic thought patterns, sensory perceptions, social interactions, language processing, and emotional regulation all develop differently than those of people who are not autistic.

Modern societies operate in ways that often disadvantage autistic people, which makes autism a developmental disability.

who is autistic?

[image of globe]
About 1-2% of the world’s population is autistic.
Many populations are under-diagnosed, but autistic people are everywhere!

[image of birthday cake]
People of all ages are autistic.
Though people usually talk about autistic children, autistic adults need support too.

[image of three people with varying skin tones and hairstyles]
Autistic people are found across all genders, races, and nationalities.
Boys are diagnosed more often than other genders, but that doesn’t mean they are more likely to be autistic.

Everyone is NOT a little autistic, but everyone is human, so we have lots in common!

©Erin Human, 2017
for more information, visit:
[image of smartphone]

This infographic is also available as a printable PDF:

autism 101

Neurodiversity 101

Autism, Disability, Infographics, Neurodiversity

neurodiversity 101

Neurodiversity 101

It’s a big word for a simple idea!

neuro/brain [image of head with brain]
diversity/range of different kinds [image of landscape with trees, water, animal]
= a range of different kinds of human brain

neurodiversity is not
– a belief system
– a personal opinion
– a political position
– a theory

by itself, it is just a neutral fact of human life:
neurodiversity exists!

[image of text/speech boxes]
more and more, people are saying they
are pro-neurodiversity
support neurodiversity
celebrate neurodiversity
those are personal opinions; people may agree or disagree that neurodiversity is a good thing, but that it is REAL is undeniable.

bonus neurodiversity vocab words:
neurotypical: having the most common, typical kind of brain
neurodivergent: having any kind of brain that is not neurotypical
neurodiverse: having a variety of people with neurotypical and neurodivergent brains; refers to a group or group environment, such as a family or workplace

© Erin Human 2017
for more information:

This infographic also comes in a printable PDF:

neurodiversity 101

Autism Acceptance 101

Autism, Disability, Neurodiversity, Parenting

Autism Acceptance 101

Image is an infographic with the following text:
guide for parents
Autism Acceptance 101
Autism Acceptance sounds simple enough, but what does it really mean for parents of autistic children?
[photo of a red tricycle on a sidewalk]
Autism Acceptance is NOT:
– ignoring challenges for parents or children
– giving up on your child or having low expectations
– pretending that life is all unicorn farts and rainbows!
[photo of a smiling child on a swing]
Autism Acceptance IS:
– accepting that autism is an inextricable part of your child
– acknowledging your child’s unique challenges & needs
– providing supports & helping your child thrive….
as an autistic person!
Erin Human
This infographic also comes in a printable PDF:
Autism Acceptance 101

Tolerance vs Acceptance

ableism, Autism, Neurodiversity

Tolerance vs Acceptance

definitions of Tolerance at left:

  • the capacity to endure pain or hardship
  • indulgence for practices different from or conflicting with one’s own
  • the allowable deviation from a standard
  • the capacity of a body to endure or become less responsive to a substance or insult, especially with repeated use or exposure
  • relative capacity of an organism to grow or thrive when subjected to an unfavorable environmental factor

definitions of Acceptance at right:

  • the quality of being able to take or hold
  • the act of giving admittance or approval
  • the act of regarding something as proper, normal, or inevitable
  • the act of recognizing as true
  • the act of making a favorable response to
  • the act of assuming an obligation to
  • the state of being received willingly

Autism Acceptance
because tolerance is not enough