Sunday, August 21, 2011

Be a lighthouse

It’s Sunday morning five to seven. I had planned to sleep long this morning but at six thirty Mark found me staring at the ceiling. I told him that I was thinking about Jaedon, Faith’s son. I met and played with him once last year, and he left a lasting impression with me. He is a tall twelve-year old with incredible persistence, unusual interests, and his focus is on creating lots of sensory stimulation.

In the last two weeks I spent many hours playing with kids on the spectrum.  I had my regular hours, did some extra tandem sessions, and brought one of my friends with me for a session, because I believe she would be a great play friend! The parents of one of the kids also organized a team meeting to celebrate all the miraculous changes their son has made and to help us focus on what’s next. And if that wasn’t enough, I also was an observer of a Handle evaluation and implemented the Handle exercises into the playroom setting.

The potpourri of all these experiences brought me to Jaedon this morning. While talking with Mark, we drifted from Jaedon to different interesting and useful places.  We discussed so much that I have not even a clue as where to start sharing them with you, but I am going to give it a try...

Back to Jaedon
When I was with Jaedon in the room that time he was very aware of me. He seemed to constantly be doing things to see how I would respond to it. He almost seemed to have a systematic approach. I can imagine he was talking to himself in the following way: “If I walk through the room most people respond like this, you too? Yes, ok. Now if I do this, you should respond like this... Yes. Now If I do this...Who stop. Don’t do that. Your hands go here. Ok. Let’s try again. Who. No, No, No. That’s wrong. Here.

In this session I decided to not comply with all Jaedon’s requests (or rigid behavior, depending on how you want to label it) but create a pattern of following him in his requests and then change my actions into something new. I would introduce bouncing the ball in our walking pattern, or doing something else unexpected. His overall response to that session with me seemed to be confusion, sometimes a bit of frustration but also curiosity in this weird woman that would not follow his set pattern but create her own pattern closely related to his.

In other words some moments I was joining him, but then I would stop and initiate myself. It didn’t seem appropriate to join him in everything but I would have to look back at the tapes made of that day to see what made me drew this conclusion.

This morning I realized that I was showing him that creating a relationship with me would mean he didn’t have to walk on his toes and be in control all the time. That he could allow himself to relax, because I could think of fun things too. That I would be there for him whatever happened. I was telling him: “he you can trust me even when I do things that are a little different than you do them!” And I am not just going to follow you, I am going to show you different ways that may be unknown to you.

Think about how a pack of gorillas is led by the leader. They trust and follow the leader unconditionally. But if the leader doesn’t lead properly, a revolution happens and a new gorilla will fight his way to the top and become the leader. This is the same with dogs and wolfs.

Once I had a beautiful white Sheppard. When he was only nine weeks old, I started to take him to doggie class. My reasoning was that he would become a big dog and I didn’t want him to be the boss in the house. During the classes Casper showed a very strong willed mind. They called him an alpha male. Luckily for him, I am very strong willed too. They taught me how alpha males fight their way up to be the leader if no leader is around. They showed me very simple tricks that put me in strongly in the seat of a leader. Casper and I created a very strong wonderful relationship. A relationship built on deep trust and love. One in which Casper knew that he could rely on me, and because of that he could relax and enjoy his time wherever he went.


1. reliance on and confidence in the truth, worth, reliability, etc., of a person or thing; faith Related adj fiducial
2. (Business / Commerce) a group of commercial enterprises combined to monopolize and control the market for any commodity: illegal in the US
3. the obligation of someone in a responsible position a position of trust
4. custody, charge, or care a child placed in my trust
5. a person or thing in which confidence or faith is placed

To relax our body and mind we have to feel trust. Without trust our fear system is activated and we cannot relax. The experience of trust is a very personal thing. For me, the belief that I can take care of myself whatever happens, gives me trust. But this is not a belief that a kid carries with them (and many adults don’t believe this either). As a kid you want to trust that your world will be the same tomorrow, that you can rely on your parents, that food will appear on the table that night, or that mama will scare away the monsters from under the bed. A lot of trust is put into the parents, the caregivers, the friends, you, me etc.

Challenging behavior

Last week one of the parents of the kids I worked with approached me. We need some crisis intervention she said. One of the fabulous workers had over a two – three week period gotten to a place where she felt attacked by the six year old. She was bitten and hit in a couple of occasions and the help and training that the parents had given her had not helped turning their sessions back to the fun periods they had before.

We set up some tandem sessions. This meant we went into the room with the three of us. The fist time we arrived in the room the tension was immediately tangible in the room. The little boy was hyper focused and rigid. So, our focus was to quickly join and follow to help him relax his system. But he didn’t go there. Instead he seemed to want to go straight to finding that button that had made their relationship so vulnerable.

He was at edge, and the things she did to calm him and take care of herself didn’t help calming him at all. For an hour we did an improvised dance where we would go one step forward and two steps back. He wanted to go for a walk, we were clear that we would stay in the room and he would get upset. Then he would calm down again. And everything would start all over. I had no clue about what had happened between these two people that had made communication so emotional and I was observing the whole interaction as one big interesting puzzle.

After an hour he walked up to me, looked at me and said “I want to make a” and stopped. He looked at her. He looked at me. He was clearly conflicted what next. He walked away. I knew what he wanted. He wanted to make a deal. This is one of the things he likes to do with all his players. It gives him the feeling of structure and control, while we can use it to introduce new exciting things into his life. So why did he stop?

Then I remembered a comment from the parents that this particular worker had mentioned to them not to like the word deal. Bingo. I thought. I called him back. Do you want to make deal? I asked him very innocently. He excitingly bounced and showed a quick smile after which he recomposed himself. He turned around and looked confused at the other worker. Her quick mind responded, “I don’t like to make deals, but if Iris thinks it is a good idea we can make a deal.”

Back to trust

What has this story to do with trust? I figured out in that session that the woman would avoid subjects where she expected conflict could arise. What if he wanted to have a deal about something she didn’t want to do? What if he refused the deal she wanted to give him? What if he wanted to go for a walk while she had decided to stay in the room?

I told her that conflict is not something to avoid, but that it is about being clear on how to respond when conflict arises. It is about being a leader and setting an example. It is about showing that a conflict is something simple that you can work through together. It is about showing that there doesn’t have to be a conflict in the first place if both are open to negotiation. And that to negotiate she had to know that is negotiable or not. You want to gain the child’s trust. You want to have the child believe that your yes is a yes and your no is a no, and that this has nothing to do with love, respect, or anything else people like to attach to it.

Trust has nothing to do with what you will give or you won’t give. It has to do with the delivery of your message. If you are clear in your intentions, you don’t have to avoid the subject but can instead talk about it. To this woman I gave the example: he wants to make a deal about going on a walk, while you decided you will stay in the playroom. You can easily respond that you will stay in the playroom today, but that you can make a deal about playing a game in the room like writing words about things that you see on a walk.

In three sessions she had turned the playroom back into the fun place it was before, but now with a much better understanding of her role as a leader in their relationship.


Trust is a basic need in a relationship. To help improve the relationship we may have to find out what trust means to our partner. It can be reliability, or consistency. But it can also be clarity, or openness to discuss whatever comes your way. It surely seems to imply honesty, and direct open communication. I like to tell the people in the playrooms that we are not just a friend, but we are the lighthouse in the dark, the light that is always there bright and strong and reliable.

Wow, what a story. And then I didn’t even share with you the discussion we had around motivation (what motivates Jaedon to put things in the fish tank or throw stuff out the window...). We’ll keep that for a next time)

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