Friday, April 2, 2010

Crying Games

A few months ago I did an outreach with an 8 year old boy on the autism spectrum (I'll call him Adam).

One of his favorite games was to watch his volunteers and his Mom pretend to cry (and sometimes die). He was highly repetitious with this and his team wanted to know what to do with it. He didn't play these games with me but I have come across this interest a number of times. The following are my notes and suggestions on the subject. Even if you are not running a relationship based program I am curious to know how your beliefs about crying and dying show up in your day to day life.

There is a number of possible reasons why Adam wants to play these games. One main reason might simply be the exciting energy created around crying and pretending to die. When people cry, they let go and look funny and are full of emotion. This is exciting to watch. Most people probably react with extreme surprise and discomfort when asked to pretend to die! Once they get over their initial discomfort, they might then pretend to die with great gusto. All very motivating to a curious mind indeed.

My suggestion is to go ahead and continue doing what Adam wants you to do as this is an open door for interaction. He is exploring these topics and there is nothing bad or inappropriate about them. As you found out, Adam doesn't like you to change his favorite game by 'pulling back' or trying to make it 'positive'. Continuing to do this may turn it into a button push. There is no one 'right' thing to do. You can try out different things and see what happens.

Check in about how you feel about crying and dying. What are your beliefs about these topics? Quite interesting I bet an everyone has different beliefs and emotional reactions. Adam is probably really curious about all this. Remember, as facilitators, you are 'selling' beliefs to him. What are some empowering beliefs about crying and dying? Perhaps there might be some opportunities to get Adam talking about his ideas around these topics before selling him yours! His my be enlightening!

The following are some beliefs that I have about crying that I find useful:

Crying is wonderful! I am so happy I am able to cry when I want to cry. Crying is a way to communicate emotions, wants, and needs. Some people cry to get what they want. It is not easy to understand what a person wants when he or she cries. It can be helpful to encourage people to use words to get what they want instead of crying. Sometimes people just want to cry. It feels good to express myself through laughing, crying, jumping, etc. as a way to let my feelings out. Crying can be very cleansing and I usually feel better after I cry. People cry when they are sad, frustrated, angry, lonely, afraid, and when they are happy. I don't know how a person feels even when I see that they are crying.

With all these beliefs I've stated: IT IS EASY FOR ME TO BE COMFORTABLE (and even excited) about crying. This is the key.

Another point: culturally, there is already so much energy around crying and dying, you don't have to use major enthusiasm around it for Adam to be into it. Use SUPER, MEGA TONS of EXCITEMENT around things that Adam has a challenge doing such as participating in new interactive games and activities (and even slight variations of the crying / dying games).

It is not that the crying game is negative and other more typical games are positive. Everything that goes on in the playroom is an amazing learning opportunity.

Build interactions FROM his motivation of crying (versus trying to go away from it or change the game). In other words, use wherever he is to go towards what you want for him.

Game Ideas:
Make an emotion / action dice. Use a square tissue box and put a picture of someone crying on one of the sides and put pictures of people doing other actions (e.g. laughing, clapping, jumping, etc.) on the others sides. Throw the dice and do the actions together.

Take turns following each others directions. When Adam asks you to cry, do it. If he keeps asking, keep doing it and after a few times say something like: "Ok Adam, now it is your turn. I want you to....(e.g. jump, give me high five, laugh, etc.). Really encourage him strongly: "Go on Adam, I know you can do it!" CHEER HIM ON BIG TIME WHEN HE DOES.

Play a game called: Sometimes when I cry, I like to....(sing, cuddle, jump, etc.). Remember not to assume that crying means sadness.

Help Adam learn how to be a great friend to someone who is crying. After a few times of Adam asking you to cry and following his request, ask Adam to get you a tissue, a drink of water, or ask for a cuddle. If he does come to give you a cuddle, you could then say something like: "Wow, thank you Adam! You are such a nice friend. I'm going to give you a ride or a a squeeze. THIS is the time to PUMP UP YOUR ENERGY!!! You have helped to expand his repertoire of activities without moving away from the very thing he enjoys but by going into it.

Make characters pretend to cry and then ask them to use their words. Get silly and playful with it (e.g. "I have no idea what you want little duckie...please use your words.") Have a little dialogue with the characters about why they are crying and sell some empowering beliefs.

When Adam is ready, have a conversation about crying / dying. Talk about a time when you cried (what were you communicating?). Emphasize with passion what you learned from the situation.

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