I had some original thoughts today. What you are reading did not come from books but is my own original thinking. WOW!
TWO WEEKS AGO Georgie started at a mainstream nursery. Since then I have started a 10 week course with the two nursery workers who work directly with him. I have a new resource book/manual you will find under LINKS and it works a treat. As we go through the chapters each week they are picking up the issues faced by Georgie and applying them with a little help from me to his time in the nursery. The following springs out of my meeting with them today.
Georgie has an issue with tactile defensiveness. Now with some children who have been hospitalised for lengthy periods I can understand perfectly well why they react negatively to being touched on their hands etc; hospitals are distressing places and children have ‘bad’ things done to them like needles sticking into them and so on. But in Georgie’s case it is not quite the same. So why is he tactile defensive? (a great phrase by the way – I wish I had invented it!)
Think of touch (a) in terms of hearing. There can be a loud noise which is startling and surprising to the child. There can be a ‘loud’ touch that is strong and powerful to the child. Touch sensitivity might be that the tactile experience is overly ‘loud’ or too strong. Take an example from Georgie last week. And please note this is not theory; this is the result of my observations and my drawing conclusions. Georgie reacts badly to a particular touch – dry or wet / cooked pasta. He pulls his hand away and resists. He does not like the touch of pasta. Now you might say that is comparable to a ‘loud’, startling noise. The strong touch of pasta is too much for Georgie.
Then you have the extra element (b) of ‘surprise’. Surprise is what we experience when we meet with something we did not expect without being warned in advanced or without adequate preparation. It may be we are presented with something unfamiliar, something we do not recognize, without warning. A silly example happened to me today. I was walking along the road and some youths leaned out of a car window and shouted some nonsense at me and I was taken quite by surprise. That was malicious but I was taken aback, naturally. We know that children with brain damage have what we might call an ‘aversion to novelty’. They do not take easily to anything that is new or unfamiliar. Presenting Georgie with pasta could be in either category. It is both ‘loud’ and it is unfamiliar.
A further dimension to this is what we might call (c) ‘empowerment’. When you place Georgie’s hand into the bowl of wet pasta it is as if his private space is being invaded. He is not in control. He is not choosing to do this. It is done to him. There is the world of difference between my putting my hand tentatively into a bowl of soggy slimy pasta to test it out and having my hand held and put into the bowl. It is all about control. I do not feel in control and Georgie does not feel in control. He is effectively ‘disempowered’. So this could be another reason for his dislike for pasta.
So how can we deal with this? Two possibilities as I see it. (1) You can reduce the ‘intensity’ of the touch. This is rather like turning the sound down. Children shouting loudly will definitely startle or overload Georgie as does touching pasta. You can lower the sound by moving Georgie away or acoustically dampening the walls (or telling the children to quieten down). Similarly you can lower the touch intensity by giving Georgie a small dose, an inoculation as it were. When you have a flu jab you are given a very very small dose of something quite powerful and disturbing to your body’s equilibrium. But that small dose inoculates you against the big illness and makes your body resistant towards it so that it does not succumb to the germ/virus. In the case of pasta ‘turning the sound down’ could be done by giving Georgie a small piece of pasta into his hand, rather than dipping his whole hand into the pasta. Placing a piece into his palm to get used to it may well be enough to acclimatize him to the plate or bowl of pasta. Or if not you could try two pieces and then three pieces and so on until he becomes used to it.
(2) Another way of dealing with this is to choose something with similar properties as pasta, which he has no aversion to, but rather he enjoys and has a positive feeling towards. By associating what is disliked with what is liked may develop a positive attitude towards the new material. That is association. For instance you know that Georgie quite enjoys water play. He likes to place his hand in water and he likes soapy water and bubbly water. Thicken the constituency of the water so it is almost like wet pasta. Possibly try corn flour, which quickly develops into a thick and gluey constituency. Or something lighter like bubble bath may be a good start. Get him to feel the bubble bath or corn flour in his hand. Once he is tolerant towards this he may be ready for a small amount of pasta.
Placing a piece into his hand also does not make him feel disempowered. He can hold it or reject it. He does not have to move his hand; he does not have to enclose his fist. But he may want to, in which case he remains in control of his hand.
There is a little bit more to this. Exactly the same principle applies to Georgie’s experience in the sandpit last Friday. When Georgie stood in his bare feet only in the sand he was fine and happy and enjoyed the experience. However when his clothes were taken off and he was made to sit down in the sandpit he didn’t like it and protested much. Overload you see. Too loud and too strong. Quieten it down. Keep it quiet! Thats my advice anyway. And I am pretty sure the nursery took it on board.