Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Model Flexibility to Teach Flexibility

This article was originally written for Relate to Autism and posted at 5/10/10 

Before we go into the playroom many of us prepare, so we have a clear idea of what we want to do in the room with our child or friend. We might decide to focus on a goal like helping our child initiate or help him/ her sustain eye contact. It might be that we want our child to be more flexible, or that our child start using the potty and so we are creatively thinking about ways to get there. During our preparation we think about different games to do while in the playroom. We might be brainstorming about how we can make peripheral changes (small changes) to rigid routines we know our child likes to do; We might even be thinking about what toy we could bring into the room that will help us towards our goal.

Preparation gives us a focus. Preparation is useful as long as we are willing to throw everything we prepared overboard when needed.

I work with two wonderful little boys who both have some challenges in their gross motor skills. While grocery shopping I saw a little children’s golf set and I knew that this was a toy I could use in the playroom.  I didn’t hesitate a minute and bought it. I could see us using the clubs to hit the balls and we would have so much fun playing golf together!

The next day, in the first playroom session with the new toy, my little friend immediately confiscated and inspected the golf clubs, balls and cart. The golf clubs were taken out of the golf cart; then the balls were taken of the golf cart, and we both ended up with a stick in the hand.  We were ready to start to play golf! Yeah!

But then things went a little different then I had anticipated. Two beautiful brown eyes looked at me with pleasure and excitement, while his little hands grabbed the golf club from my hand. He put it back in the cart. Then he took my hand and led me to the middle of the room. I stood there curious about what would happen next.

Excitingly, my little friend ran around the room while waving the club as if he just made an amazing goal and was showing it off to the public. He waved; jumped; made slides; you should have seen him! Then he drops the stick. I don’t hesitate a moment. I run to the stick, take it before he can respond and run through the room and celebrate my stunt the way he just did a minute ago! He laughs. Then he comes over to me and we wrestle the stick until he pulls it out of my hand. He wins this time and does his celebration dance until again I chase him and steal the golf club. The next twenty minutes we wrestle, tickle, giggle, show off and have the most unique time together while our connection is clear and our eye contact is extremely high.

In my second playroom session that day I saw my other friend. I brought the same toy in, knowing well that I have not seen this boy show any interest in sports and balls. I decided that this would be a perfect way to challenge his flexibility with the help of this toy. When I came in the toy got inspected again. This time the different parts were chewed on, and after the clubs were held insecurely for a couple of seconds, they got dumped in the corner. I showed how fun the balls were, but the interest for the balls or the clubs was not sparked! Instead, this friend was totally enthralled by the club cart. Who would have known!

Look at this cart. It is long and small and deep and there is a hole. So cool! You can put something in there! What about a pencil? Ahh, yeah... blue pencil in the cart. Hmm. How do I get the pencil out? Let’s try by putting my arm in. Hmm. Doesn’t fit. Let’s try again. Hmm, no. I’m getting frustrated; I want the blue pen out, now. Iris help!

For circa 30 minutes we throw pencils in the cart, after which my friend would ask me to “turn cart upside down” so the pencil would fall out. During this game he started to participate in turning the cart upside down himself. He was totally motivated to use new language, challenge his body movements and balance and he was even open for me to do some peripheral variations, like adding extra pens, making the sentences longer, and correct him on his pronunciation.

In both sessions I experienced some unique situations, by being flexible.  I let go of the outcome of my preparation and went with the flow of the moment. In both sessions it never came to the point of playing golf with them, but I did work on gross motor skills and also on a lot of other things I had not planned for!

Being flexible does not mean "giving up". I will bring the toy back into the room, because I do want to play golf with them. But I am not holding on to a time frame and I believe my flexibility and persistence will bring us to the moment where we can play the game as it was originally designed.

We want to teach our children to be flexible, but that requires us to be flexible so we can show what flexibility is about.

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