DIR Framework…something for everyone

In today’s society we are constantly bombarded with how we should be teaching our children, how to promote healthy development and how to best prepare our kids for the challenges they will face in this ever changing world. With health professionals, the media and “influencers” all having a say on what principles should be instilled when promoting healthy child development, it can all be a little bit overwhelming. Often times these principles or frameworks are complex, don’t make sense or are great in theory, but incredibly difficult to implement in everyday life. This is where DIR comes into play.

DIR is a relatively new framework that is commonly used by psychologists, occupational therapists and speech pathologists across the globe to support healthy childhood development. Whilst DIR can be used for any child, it has been particularly successful when working with children with autism spectrum disorder. So let’s take a closer look at the DIR framework…

What is DIR?
DIR is a framework that is used all over the world by health professionals, educators and parents to promote healthy childhood development. DIR stands for the Developmental, Individual-difference and Relationship-based model that focuses on creating genuine and authentic relationships with children to best support their developmental needs. DIR places a large emphasis on the social-emotional needs of a child, which is the foundation to assist them to progress through life in a meaningful and functional way.

DIR promotes the fact that whilst every child has similar developmental needs, they are uniquely themselves, therefore intervention needs to complement the child in order for meaningful relationships to flourish, thus supporting healthy development.

So let’s take a closer look at the D, the I and the R.

This framework looks at every child having a developmental ladder comprised of functional emotional developmental capacities (FEDC). These are:

  1. Self-Regulation and Interest in the World
  2. Engaging and Relating
  3. Purposeful Two-Way Communication
  4. Complex Communication and Shared Problem-Solving
  5. Using Symbol and Creating Emotional Ideas
  6. Logical Thinking and Building Bridges between ideas

You can recognise that a child has mastered all FEDC’s and progressed through the ladder if they can:

  • Stay calm and regulated in response to internal and external stimuli
  • Handle an ever-widening array of emotional experiences and feelings and progress in areas that may be difficult e.g. motor planning, language
  • Engage in purposeful communication with another human being and demonstrate emotions
  • Negotiate their wants and needs and sequence their actions (motor planning)
  • Relate to what someone else is feeling and resolve conflicts in social situations
  • Create logical and emotional connections to people and experiences and give opinions and reasons for their feelings

Often times children with autism spectrum disorder have difficulties progressing through this developmental ladder alone, therefore health professionals may provide intervention to assist them to climb the ladder. Many times children with ASD need to begin at the first step of self-regulation, and once this has been mastered the other skills can become a focus.

Every child is different, thus the “I” in DIR. When implementing DIR, an individual profile is created. Individuals differ in many ways including:

  • Health
  • Sensory/Motor Processing
  • Auditory Processing
  • Visual Processing
  • Support Systems
    • family/therapists/community resources

If you have decided to work with a professional who utilises the DIR framework, it is important that they create this profile of your child so that an individualised intervention plan is created to cater to your child’s needs.

Relationships, connection and being social – this is the highest human motivation to date. The quality of relationships is the most important factor as this feeds our basic human need for connectedness and studies have shown that the more socially connected an individual is, the greater their health. This is where DIR is ahead of the pack in terms of supporting childhood development. DIR recognises that parents/primary caregivers are the most important players in a child’s development, as the parent-child relationship is critical to all of the child’s developmental leaps. Of course other relationships matter including child-therapist and child-peer etc., however the child-parent relationship is the building block for all meaningful connections the child will have growing up. So how do you form a strong relationship? Be present, be playful and be supportive. A child needs to feel comfortable, safe and secure if you want to see developmental gains.

The D, I and R are all interrelated!
The “D” shows us where to start in order to support development, the “I” tells you where to empathise or strategically avoid due to the child’s unique profile and a strong “R” is essential for progress in the “D” and “I”.

Now you have a better understanding of the framework, the next blog will give you some practical tips for how you can implement DIR into your everyday life…


Kait is passionate about her work of supporting children and their families to feel confident and competent to meet the joys and challenges of day to day life. Her work as a paediatric OT has allowed her to develop specialist skills in play, toileting, feeding and self help skills.

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