Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Act(ion) of Thinking

Epoch Action FiguresImage via WikipediaI've been thinking about RD of late (well, particularly today, because we had a session this morning). 

RD is a very sweet young man on the autism spectrum (he does not use speech to communicate), and he is very particular about things. And by this I mean that he seems to believe that all things should have a place (I think I can thank one of his family members for his excellent manners and his tidy nature.)

It so happens, that we work in a terrifically messy room in his cottage (oddly enough, it's the, um, "sensory room") (yes) (well). 


No matter how much I try to clean up all the clutter in the place before I go and pick him up for his session, he still finds things to, er, tidy. 

He also likes checking out all kinds of objects. He has a collection of action figures with giant feet (I don't want to know!), and his staff people find him books and various things that have moving parts to them. He keeps them all in a big box with his picture on the front. Great! 

So. Back to the aforementioned "sensory room"...

Because this is, apparently, a full service sensory room, there are almost always broken battery-operated sorts of things lying around in varying states of function and dysfunction. This means that the batteries are lying around (lovely), and the little parts that keep the batteries quietly tucked inside the gadgets are also roaming about freely.

RD, being the tidying kind of guy he is, and being the kind of person who likes to bond with objects, has been picking up these little plastic parts that were supposed to hold in batteries. He just turns them over and over in his fingers and holds them close to his face so he can examine them.

While he's doing that, he sings. He hums little melodies (I've come to learn that he repeats specific melodies with small variations here and there). I either sing them back to him or play them on the guitar (with my own variations and chords). And while he's scurrying about the room arranging things, we sing and play back and forth with each other. 

The other thing you need to know is that, when he borrows an instrument from me (to check out as described) he often puts it back in the closet that's in the sensory room. As such, I have to go and retrieve the instrument quickly because otherwise it'll be there for all eternity (I have reached the official limit on my brain's memory card, and, let's face it: some things are just going to have to go!). 

Now, not only does he take my stuff and put it in the cottage closet, but he puts stuff he picks up in the cottage on my music cart or in my instrument bag. I am forever pulling things out of my bags (after his session) and putting them back in the room (back in circulation, as it were).


So, as I mentioned above, I was thinking about RD, and I was wondering: why does he keep putting cottage things in my bags? And why does he keep putting my stuff in the sensory room closet? What's that about? Is there something he might want me to know? Or that I should be noticing about this?

And I thought, hm. So I mentioned to him during his session that maybe he needs to have me hold on to a small piece of him when I go (i.e., don't forget me, please). And maybe putting my stuff in the cottage closet is a way for him to keep a piece of me as well. 

When I gave it some more consideration, it occurred to me, again, that here's a guy who likes everything to have its own place- whether it's the "right" place or the "wrong" place. And I remembered that he himself grew up in a few different places, being sent around to various family members, because his mother died when he was an infant. 

And now here he is with us, in an institution.  

And it made me think about objects. And about having a place to be. And I wondered (out loud to him) if maybe it was important to him that he have a specific place to be. And what his thoughts are about being in the "right" place or the "wrong" place. And which one he feels the institution might be.

RD's response was to increase his singing. He and I sang back and forth for ten more minutes than usual today (we usually make it for 20 minutes, but today it was 30!) before he hopped up and began pulling the guitar off of me to indicate that we were finished.

So, I'm thinking this is veeeery cool. 

Definitely warrants some more thinking...


Elise said...

Wonderful blog post tonight. Being a music therapist truly does involve a lot of thinking!

By the way, I completely cracked up laughing about the "sensory room". I definitely understand.

Roia said...

Thanks, Elise! Yes, it involves thinking and the development of gray hair (well, maybe that's because I'm getting older). It's what keeps us coming back!

Glad you appreciate the generalized trauma afforded by some sensory rooms. Oy!

Laura Cousins said...

Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing. I too have a client like this, who enjoys humming whilst examining in minute detail whatever instruments I've brought for him that day. He can also balance drum sticks on the very tip of his finger in a way that I cannot, despite trying over and over again. He's incredible.

Roia said...

Gotta love being with fascinating people all day. Nice to hear from you again. I hope you're well and jolly. As soon as I get a minute to breathe, I'm coming over to your blog for a reading party! Glad you've swung by.

Julie said...

I can relate to both the "sensory room" and the "quirks" that make autism so fascinating. I wonder how much of his putting objects from the room onto your cart/into your bag - knowing you will take those away with you - is a sign to maybe "get this junk out of here. And the companion thought to that is, how much of his putting your items in the closet - knowing the closet stays put - is a sign that he values the work you do with him, not to mention the relationship.

Things that make you go "hmmm..."

Lynsay said...

It's fantastic to hear the thought processes you go through. RD sounds not at all dissimilar to one of my sons. You'll have me thinking about his foibles at greater depth. Thank you.

Roia said...

@Julie It's hard to know how much of it is his need to tidy things up and how much of it is simply appreciating the relationship. He definitely seems to value the work we do (and, interestingly, he stayed for the *entire* session the following week!). I think the fact that I let him know that I'm thinking about what he might be communicating to me with his actions will help him to make a point, so to speak, of making his actions intentional. We shall see.

@Lynsay Thank you. That works out nicely, because it's helpful for me to write about my thought process- it gives me insights I miss when I'm in the moment working with someone. So glad to know that perhaps your son will have greater avenues for communication now. :- )

Anita L. Gadberry, Ph.D., MT-BC said...

I love your thought process about the items in your bag/closet. I am so glad that you mentioned this to your client and happy to hear that he communicated with you in return. Without careful observation, we may miss some of the important things our clients are trying to tell us.

Roia said...

@Anita Thank you. Yes, absolutely I try to help my clients hear my thought process, and I completely agree that 98% of our job is about paying attention and presuming people have something to say (versus expecting our clients to spend hours listening to us). Glad you stopped by!

Karla said...

Maybe there are some shared properties between all the things he puts in your bag that either he wants you to keep for the reason of those properties, or because he doesn't think they belong there for the same reason? It could help to pay particular attention to the nature of the things he moves around, or maybe not. Maybe it's totally random or it has something to do with what he's thinking that day that no one knows but him.

Roia said...

Actually, Karla, he tends to like small objects (or larger objects that he can break into smaller pieces). They're usually either made of wood or plastic, but he's pretty inclusive (in the sense that he'll pick up magazines and instruments as well). But it's certainly worth a good pondering. Thanks for bringing it up!