Food for thought on handling different behaviours
I love these examples of handling different behaviours in children. As designers preoccupied with a user’s experience of the world around them and the contents of it, I think that we can learn a great deal from these excerpts from the British Journal of Play Therapy Volume 5, Winter 2009.
At present, the pamphlet is not online so I have reproduced a version of them below:
Roland and the pencil
Roland, an 8 year old boy with autistic spectrum disorder is sitting at a table in the classroom with 5 other children. All of them are given a piece of paper and pencil and are asked to draw a picture of themselves playing their favourite game. All children proceed to draw elaborate pictures except for Roland who is more interested in the sound made by tapping the tip of his pencil on his paper and creating a series of dots.
An observer might argue that Roland’s behaviour could be due either to the fact that he was unable to understand the required task or that he was unable to reproduce a picture of a previous event or that he had fine motor difficulties that prevented him from drawing a picture. However, none of them apply to his incessant need to tap his pencil rather than draw a picture. Roland had a compromised sensory system which meant he would easily perseverate on sounds, enjoy repetitive actions, and was drawn to visual images that repeated themselves. The pull of his sensory preferences prevented him from engaging in the task at hand.
According to Piaget’s theory of play, Roland was engaged in a form of object play. However, the teacher quickly realised that since this was a very elementary form of play, and seeing that the tapping pencil began to distract the other children, she seized the opportunity to move Roland to a more sophisticated level of play that involved his peers.
The teacher asked all the other children to stop their drawings and to imitate Roland’s pencil tapping. Roland began to smile at the other children, produced sustained eye contact and also began laughing. He became very excited by their actions and imitation and began to address them with various tapping patterns to follow. He began calling them by name and would ask them to speed up and slow down. They drew shapes, faces, making them happy, mad and sad. The perseverative nature of the pencil tapping became a social form of game playing that included interaction, imitation, communication and reciprocity that was possible with the creative direction of the teacher.
Richard and the rollerblades
Richard, an 11 year old in a large suburban school diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder, whenever he walked around the tight aisles between the desks in his classroom would involuntarily bump into the other children, sometimes hitting or kicking them.
The initial reaction of the teacher was to ignore this behaviour, to punish it, label it as attention seeking, and curtail it. Richard became used to this cause-effect nature of his behaviour.
In time the conclusion was that Richard had poor body awareness, limited spatial awareness and was frustrated with the structural confines of the classroom. He was also experiencing sensory overload. With outside input it was decided to overhaul the layout of the classroom. Rather than remain in rows, desks were placed together to form pods creating more space. Furthermore, to assist Richard with body awareness and contact him with his surroundings, it was decided that he be placed on rollerblades. In time, Richard’s aggressive behaviour reduced considerably and on the occasion when he did try to lash out he would lose his balance and end up asking for help.
As weeks passed, Richard joined cooperative games and began to recognise the value of friendship and began building relationships with the other children. Then the introduction of a selection of the other children on rollerblades allowed Richard to observe a leadership role and help others.
In time, Richard became a functioning member of the classroom without rollerblades able to work on academic tasks both alone and in groups.