Dr. Stanley Greenspan

Learning first occurs as a part of emotional interactions

– Dr. Stanley Greenspan (1941 – 2010)

The late Dr Stanley Greenspan is best known for developing DIR/Floortime®, a treatment framework for individuals with autism and other developmental issues. While that, in itself, is monumental and transformative, it is only part of his great legacy.

Great discoveries often begin with the simplest of questions. Stanley Greenspan might have asked:

How do we become human beings?

The work that then followed led to a revolutionary understanding of human development and a rich and powerful framework for the treatment of individuals with autism and other developmental challenges.

Emotions actually give birth to our very ability to think

– Dr. Stanley Greenspan

I will touch a few high points of Greenspan’s work and influence, focusing on the treatment of children with special needs. The reader is encouraged to explore on their own for further exposure to and understanding of Greenspan’s works and influence. I hope to follow with more detailed articles in the future.

We begin with Greenspan’s profound discovery that emotional connection is the basis of communication. As he described (I paraphrase what he said at the 2009 ICDL conference in Reston, Virginia):

A mother is holding her baby in her arms. Suddenly and spontaneously, the baby utters the word mama. The mother’s response is warm, enthusiastic, nurturing, and emotionally compelling. The baby, already profoundly connected to its mother has now discovered a new means of connection—spoken language. Imagine the baby thinking (in “baby think”) I’m not quite sure what I just did but I ‘m going to try figure out how to do it again.

Greenspan wove his transformational ideas into a rich tapestry of human development. His six stages not only cross temporal and cultural boundaries, but allow us to understand and treat some of the greatest challenges to our children (as well as adults).

During his life Greenspan wrote or co-authored dozens of books and and helped thousands of families directly and millions more through his published works and lectures. His works live on continuing to help millions more through through his students and followers.

All learning has an emotional base

– Plato (circa 428 – 348 BC)

Greenspan had predecessors. Personally, I had long ago recognized that people made decisions with their emotions and then justified them with their logic. Indeed, the works of several other thought leaders had influenced me. For this essay I’d like to mention one in particular.

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion

– Dale Carnegie (1888 – 1955)

Dale Carnegie is best known for his seminal book How to Win Friends and Influence People. His remarkable insight into inter-personal relations guided many of the experts that followed. Sixty-three years after his death his books are still purchased and read and his courses are still taught.

At first blush it may be hard to see the connection between Carnegie and Greenspan. Greenspan developed and articulated both an explanatory philosophy and its practical therapeutic applications. Carnegie tacitly embedded his philosophy in his practical advise. Yet, upon reflection, it is profoundly evident that Carnegie understood and employed the critical emotional connection between people.

While Greenspan and Carnegie were men of the 20th century—one at the beginning and the other at the end, each helped lead us from some of its archaic ideas to a much better place. Much of 20th century culture explicitly ignored and devalued emotions (touchy-feely) in favor of facts and logic. The aforementioned men, each in their own way, recognized and implemented emotion as the primary and essential element of human development and social interaction.

Emotion is more powerful than reason. Emotion is the driving force behind thinking and reasoning. Emotional intelligence increases the mind’s ability to make positive, brilliant decisions

– Dr. T.P. Chia (born 1941)

– Richard Feingold, Co-founder


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