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.


Ed Meers said...

Your concluding notes are so true Aine. I play games like, and including, this with my Special Needs students and it is an excellent way to build relationships and to make that connection necessary to be effective in helping them achieve success.

Charles Gramlich said...

He was certainly blessed to have such support. How sad, though.

Aniket Thakkar said...

I've been playing all sorts of games over the weekend with friends. We went bowling, played Snooker, Counter Strike, Cards, Board Games. I had so much fun that I kept wondering why I never did these things more often.

They are a lot of fun and a great way to connect with people. I met an old friend whom I met after a long time. One game is all it took for us to bond again and know, not much has changed.

I too hope that he could bond with his kids and family the way, he wanted to.

Anonymous said...

Want to play cribbage? ;)

I remember this time well. While you were connecting, I was connecting with your grandmother alone in her house. We built our own rapport. :) A great person.

Aine said...

Minister~ It's the basic tenet of Occupational Therapy-- meaningful activity is therapeutic. Your students are lucky to have you. I can just sense that you are a "special" teacher. :)

Charles~ It was so very tragic. But, yes, he is a lucky guy in many other ways.

Aniket~ Sounds like a fun weekend! In my early teens, a couple friends and I would spend days playing board games. It really was a blast! We'd even play act during the games. For example, one of us might pretend to be an eccentric old lady who keeps trying to give away all of her money while playing monopoly (as luck would have it, that player usually ended up winning... karma?) I find it really good for our mental health to play games all day once in a while.

Jason~ We should dust off that cribbage board!! It's been too long.

I was remembering the visits with Gram while writing this post, too. Those were special times. I'm so glad we used that opportunity so well. :)

SzélsőFa said...

what a tragedy :(

and how heart-lifting it is, at the same time...

well about games: I too, find it easier to connect with my loved ones through activities than through the words.
shared activities do bring people close together.
as a parent I find it extremely important to have moments and activities we share with each other... sometimes it's hard to find activities we both like.
I don't like to play lego very much for example...neither I am interested in throwing soft toy animals at each other...
but I play chess with my son... I share my joy and interest for the simple beautiful elements of life with my daughter...
and I try to get them involved in household chores. in the middle of a long renovation - it isn't that difficult :)

jaz said...

Aine, this is so beautiful and timely! I have had such a crazy summer of visitors, feeling like I could never come up for air, like I couldn't breathe. And the kids are back to school and I've been giddy at the idea of some time alone, finally. But your post reminds me of how precious all the busy times are--and reminds me to stop and appreciate and remember.

Unknown said...

That is such truth! When I am feeling disconnected from my kids (now adults), I whip out either Upwords or Othello. It always improves the relationship! Also, when I am feeling shy, the best way through that is when there are tasks or group activities. People bond through doing meaningful things together. Or just fun things.

Beautiful story.

Chris Eldin said...

Wow. So beautiful and poignant. I connect with this on so many levels. I know exactly what you mean about finding things for the kids so you have "me" time, but once you do get settled into a nice board game, the time flies.

Aine said...

Szelsofa~ "...neither am I interested in throwing soft toy animals at each other..." I'm sooo with you on that one! LOL

Jennifer~ I frequently need such reminders, too. It's so easy to wish away the days that feel so hectic or stressful or unexciting. I just recently realized that, since our oldest turns 10 in a few weeks, in just 6 years I'll be teaching her to drive-- yikes!! I want to take her to Disney again-- NOW... Glad my post gave you that moment to appreciate! :)

Catvibe~ Thanks! Othello! I haven't played that for decades! :P

Another "truth" that my mom somehow knew (probably instinctively) is that the best way to have conversation is during a shared activity. Our best mother-daughter talks were usually while washing dishes or while driving/shopping.

Vesper said...

What a touching story, Aine. Life gives and takes away... I wish to believe that the goodwill of his family towards him has extended over the years...
You're so right. Words are not always necessary to have a meaningful "conversation".

laughingwolf said...

oh man, shot in the neck cuz some bozo could not tell one man from another :(

Aine said...

Vesper~ His family and home were full of love. I just hope they were able to get the continued medical support he needed through the years.

Laughingwolf~ yeah-- totally sucks, doesn't it?!