Friday, May 16, 2008

An Extra Layer of Protection

We adopted our youngest son when he was six years old. We were his second adoption but he had had a happy six years of life, coming into his first family when he was just days old. The tragedy that left him an orphan again was unexpected and very difficult on him but he came into our family bravely and now that he is grown, I would say that he has done very well emotionally. I was not so sure along the way. For years, our little guy would grab a shredded blankie that he had had from infancy and throw it over his head when he was upset. Sometimes, he just needed an added layer of protection. Containment. Another, thicker skin.

I thought about my son and his very important blanket this morning as I offered an unhappy little girl a body sock, which is a stretchy fabric bag that a child can climb in and put over his or her head or pull just part way up like a sock fitted up to the waist. This morning, my young friend cried when her dad left to get some coffee. She kept crying as she climbed inside the sock and then stayed in the sock as we played our next game together even though her dad had returned. Sometimes I think the sock works just like any other distraction and simply takes a child's mind off the disappointment or anxiety of a stack of blocks falling down, another child winning a competitive game, or Tahirih saying all done after an exciting activity. But Occupational Therapists talk about the body sock, weighted blankets, and tight fitting vests as providing a child with "calming weight" or "calming pressure" which may well be true because I have never felt more calm and relaxed as after a deep pressure message--so there may be a physical reason why these things help a child regroup.

Sibylle Janert convincingly describes a more symbolic psychological calming effect in feeling contained in her delightful book, Reaching the Young Autistic Child, in a chapter called Dangerous Holes and Feeling Contained. I reread that chapter again today and revisited Tim who cried for seven months whenever he was not firmly held in someone's arms and Harvey who would not take his coat off at school and all the other children described in her chapter who found ways to feel contained in a confusing world.

It is not hard for me to recall many examples of my own of an upset child seeking out a small contained spot. Net laundry baskets, cardboard boxes, cupboards; I have even seen children try to climb into my Little Tykes doll house which is much too small but certainly looks inviting to many a child. One child who could not participate in small groups in a classroom, started taking his turn like the other children when he was allowed to do so from behind the teacher's desk. He started out under the desk, yelling out answers to the teacher's questions, but gradually popped up more and more often and finally decided that he would just come out and sit in a chair. Which reminds me of how much better the groups that I have led worked when children sat on chairs rather than on the floor. Even the containment of a chair seems to help many children feel secure enough to participate. Chairs with the child's name on it are even better.

The point here is that regardless of why it works, helping kids feel contained physically and psychologically is like an extra layer of protection for vulnerable little beings. It is both an educational strategy and a human kindness to provide as much protection as a child needs.


Anonymous said...

what a beautiful post. i can just picture your boy as a little 'n.

S- said...

Gosh. I don't remember him having a blanket at all.

Jamie Sue said...

Oh wow!!! This blog is great. I'm really thrilled to have found it. :)

I'm really good at coming up with learning aides, but I'm terrible at the physical activity games so this is a big help.

Jamie Sue said...

PS: I've just linked you to my site.

Tahirih said...

Thank you Jamie Sue for linking me. I am happy you are enjoying the blog. Tahirih