Ever since I was a kid, I always found tire swings to be exciting and fun! I remember when we had one for a little bit and it was the highlight of my day. It is such a simple-open ended material that is recycled but has so much power in bringing joy, movement, creativity, imagination, and problem solving and more!
Everyday, I attend a school with my client as his 1:1/Aide/Developmental specialist. My purpose is to support him in his transitions, seeing when his body is demonstrating he is becoming dysregulated and then helping him become aware of that and supporting him in finding other ways to express and calm himself instead of using his body to hurt others or any materials.
The school that he attends is all about social/emotional learning and there are two super clear “agreements” that they remind the children of:
1. Take care of the people
2. Take care of the things
The structure of the day is pretty typical to preschool settings and since they have an expansive playground, most of the time they spend is outside (depending on the weather of course). One of the tools that I use with my client and now he expects it, is a map. in the beginning of the year, we would do what everyone else did-Go outside, wait in line, get sunscreen, and go play on the lower yard of their playground. Now, there is an AMAZING dirt hill that used to be my client’s favorite place to play in. He could use the water from the hose and create dams with his peers and could get as messy as he wanted to! Even though going to the lower yard worked for awhile for him, it did take a lot of effort on my end to make sure he was being safe with others and that he was able to take turns with the people and use his words with them. After the first few months of school had passed and everyone became more comfortable, it was time for the whole school to allow the children to use the entire yard and go wherever they please as long as there wasn’t a cone in that area (which means that it is closed.)
Unfortunately, we had a change in our schedule due to my client having some particular difficult moments where he hurt others at school when he was feeling frustrated, dysregulated, and when his family was also going through transitions of their own. Since the school was worried about both my client and the other children at their school, they decided it would be best if he only had a half-day since they believed the incidences were due to the school being too big for him and the outside time being part of that challenge.
As time went on, my supervisor and I came up with a plan for my client that in order to avoid as many transitions, that I would help him in creating a map before going outside to the yard to play and start the outside time with a small group of peers where he can engage with others but on a smaller level than having to find someone to play with in a large space. His peers like to join us in making the map as well or at least in seeing what he put on it as they also seem to enjoy predictability, and I mean cmon, maps are pretty cool.
My client has come a long way and is now the one who draws the map pretty much on his own and he numbers them 1-4 of the choices he wants to play at. I also remind him to add in getting his backpack and then going to read books where we meet his parents at pick-up time. This map has become very helpful and has shown us that he does better with a plan and when he knows what to expect. Of course, things still happen but the difficult behaviors do occur less.
We all do best when we know what is going to happen-I have my calendar in my phone that I totally rely on everyday to know what is my schedule! If something changes or gets cancelled, I survive but I do have to pause and breathe and calm myself down to an extent. Change is hard and children do really well with knowing what to expect and usually LOVE making a plan/map.
The place my client loves going to the most is the tire swing. He joins his peers on there by asking who is going to start the swinging, who is going to slow it down, and who will stop it. I have helped him navigate this with his peers as well as reminding them to say if someone wants to get off or not. My client is now able to see from afar if there are three peers on the tire swing or not which then lets him know if there is space for him or not. Before, I was there to remind him that there were people on there and that he had to wait his turn. Supporting and developing Communication is a huge part of my work with my clients who have Autism. By providing them with various options of ways in communicating to his peers, they are able to have a tool box in their memory of ways that help them stay regulated and in getting what they need without using their body to express it.
The swinging of the tire is a safe haven for my client. Sometimes they pretend it is an airplane. Sometimes they pretend it is a jet, a boat, or a star wars ship. And sometimes, it is just a place for them to receive vestibular movement together, in a shared space, to either talk or not talk. Through this shared experience, they are navigating problem solving, communication, and critical thinking while also receiving sensory input in a playful way!
It is my pleasure to be able to observe, support, and engage with my client and his peers at his school and to continue to learn about myself as a therapist, a human, a teacher, and a playmate.
With love and positivity,
Rachael Anne Singer