© David Sponder, L.E.P., BCBA, RDI CC, Floortime C1
Executive Director, Sponderworks Children’s Services

“Circles of Communication” is a term from Floortime.  A circle of communication is a way of measuring how many reciprocal and consecutive communicative responses in which the child can maintain a social interaction.  It is the measure of how many back and forth turns a given communication interaction takes. Remember, the main point of Floortime is to engage in long chains of communication interaction.

Two-way Communication is like volleys in volleyball.  I say something; you say something, I say something, you say something, etc.).  You’re always going for more circles.  And like volleyball, you’re trying to keep the communication ball in the air (communication keeps going back and forth in “volleys”) without dropping it (breaking the chain of interaction, disconnecting.

A circle of communication is really like a triangle because it has 3 steps.  It consists of: 1. one partner does something intentional towards a second partner (this could be some communicative act, or it can be the initiation of play, or simply handing you something); 2. the second partner responds, and; 3. the first partner responds to the second partner’s response – closing the circle.

Example:  (This is 5 circles in a row)

Opens the Circle Response Response to the response (closes the circle 

Circles

Child gives give mother his empty cup Mother asks, “Do you want more?” Child says, “Yes.”

1

Mother asks, “More what?” Child says, “Juice.” Mother asks, “Orange juice or apple juice?”

2

Child says, “apple juice” Mother, “OK. Here you go.” Child says, “I can pour it.”

3

Mother says, “We’ll do it together.” Child, “OK.” Mother says, “Here we go.”

4

Child says, “Juice!” Mother says, “You’re pouring juice.” Child says, “Pouring juice!”

5

You may notice that the end of one circle is the beginning of another one.  Any pattern of [behavior®response®response to the response] can be measured as a “circle.”

But all you have to think about is volleyball. You try to keep long chains of back and forth until there’s a natural break or the child disengages.

Circles do not have to be verbal.  They can be entirely non-verbal communications or gestures (like a smile) towards each other, or they can be verbal, or any combination of verbal and non-verbal.  The only thing required of circles is that each act is intended as intentional communication.

Here’s another example with a NV child: In this one, the child engages in a self-absorbed, non-interactive pattern of getting up on a stool and jumping off repeatedly (this happened the other day).  The Therapist “joins” him and tries to turn this self-absorbed play into a series of intentional acts towards each other.  This can become a “chain of circles.”

Opens the Circle Response Response to the response (closes the circle 

Circles

[Child jumps off the stool.] [Child gets back on stool.] [Adult seats herself in front of the child.]

0

[Child jumps off the stool.] Adult catches him and tickles him. Child gets back on stool.

0

Child waits for the adult to be ready (this shows intention) Adult opens arms as a signal to jump. Child jumps with intention to fall into the adult’s arms.

1

Child waits for the adult to be ready (this shows intention) Adult opens arms as a signal to jump. Child jumps with intention to fall into the adult’s arms.

2

Child waits for the adult to be ready (this shows intention) Adult opens arms as a signal to jump. Child jumps with intention to fall into the adult’s arms.

3

Child waits for the adult to be ready (this shows intention) Adult adds “Ready-Set-Go” (variation) Child jumps with intention to fall into the adult’s arms.

4

And so forth and so on.  The Therapist adds variations (R-C-R) regularly to maintain the child’s interest, prolong the circle, and require the child to adapt constantly (going from a string of repetitive to a string of novel actions).

For more information on Floortime, follow these links:

http://www.floortime.org

http://www.polyxo.com/floortime/buildingplaypartnerships.html

http://www.coping.org/intervention/floortm.htm

An ABA Analysis of Floortime and RDI