Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fun and Games (or Connect Four!)

(Couldn't resist the continuation of the 4 theme... LOL)

For some reason a memory popped into my head this morning of one of my first therapy clients. So naturally, I decided to share.... :)

When I was a student, one of my term projects involved visiting the home of a disabled person to practice interviewing and building therapeutic rapport. The disabled clients were a group of spinal cord injured patients who, prior to their discharge from a rehab hospital, had signed up to take part in this annual project.

I knew that these willing participants didn't sign up because they desired to be part of the educational experience of young therapy students. And, I doubt that many of them relished the thought of strangers coming into their home to poke and prod into the tragedy that their life had become. They signed up because it was a great way to get continued, free therapy services. So as part of our project, we were to establish one goal that we would work on during our 8-10 visits. That way, the client benefited from our educated creativity (ha!), and we benefited by developing our therapeutic interaction skills.

My client was a young (20 something) African-American man who lived in an undesirable neighborhood of Philadelphia. He was quadriplegic, only able to control his head and neck with a bit of shoulder shrug function, thanks to a gunshot wound. And, he lived with his very supportive mother, girlfriend (also very supportive), and their two young children. I remember thinking to myself, "yikes, how am I going to connect with him?"

First things first, I needed to interview him about his injury. What a way to connect with another human, eh? Turns out there was an unbelievable twist to his tragic story. Embarrassed by my preconceived guesses, I learned that he and his girlfriend were simply stopped at a redlight, when a gunman approached the car and shot him in the neck. It was a case of mistaken identity-- the gunman thought he was someone else.

But the point that I wanted to blog about is the goal he expressed for our time together. He wanted to find activities that he could do with his kids. He simply wanted to interact in more meaningful ways with his children. (Sigh. What a lesson in humility. As a parent now, I think of how we jump through hoops to get our kids engaged in something for 30 minutes so that we can have some "me" time, and here’s a Dad who just wants to be more than a fun wheelchair ride through the house.)

We came up with the idea of card games and board games. His boys were about 6 or 7, so they were old enough to start playing the types of games that actually engage parents, too. And, his mouthstick hadn't gotten much use since inpatient rehab, thanks to the two very loving and well meaning women in his life. (They helped him do everything.)

So, I made a cardholder out of a hunk of wood, and charged him with the task of painting it. And we spent much of our time together playing checkers, chess, connect four, and various card games.

My greatest lesson? Engaging in tasks together is far more rapport building than any conversation. He knew that, but had such limited physical ability to do it. So, we both found new ways to connect with those we love. And, now that I'm a mother, I look back to that experience, and hope that he shared many meaningful activities with his kids.