My lovely friend, Carole lent me this amazing book- ‘Dibs – In search of Self’ by Virginia M. Axline. It’s had a powerful effect on me..
This is the true story of a highly intelligent little boy, five years old, unable to connect with the people and world around him due to high expectations and emotional neglect from his academically brilliant but emotionally crippled parents. The book relates how he finds himself through the process of psychotherapy.
It is not my aim to rewrite the story, but I would like to emphasise a few extracts which gave me food for thought about the way I work.
“I sat down on a little chair just inside the door. Dibs stood in the middle of the room, his back towards me, twisting his hands together. I waited. We had an hour to spend in this room. There was no urgency to get anything done. To play or not to play. To talk, or be silent. In here, it would make no difference. “
There is a great deal expected of the Speech and Language Therapist (SLT): parents want us to facilitate speech/language/ behaviour and coax a child’s potential out of them. So, more often than not, we initiate, encourage, engage in attractive play activities and more often than not, the children we work with respond with delight. Our first task is to bond with a child: once we have achieved trust, we can start to build the dynamic therapeutic relationship. Some children are incredibly delicate. They respond to the undemanding approach, giving them permission to just…be.
“If he wanted to sit there in silence, then we would have silence. There must have been some reason for what he was doing. I wanted him to take the initiative in building up this relationship. Too often, this is done for a child by some eager adult.”
Dibs demonstrated that he was able to read. The natural response would be to praise a child for achieving something. ‘Miss A’ validated his skill simply by commenting and describing what he did:-
“I attempted to keep my comments in line with his activity, trying not to say anything that would indicate my desire on my part that he do any particular thing, but rather to communicate, understandingly and simply, recognition in line with his frame of reference. I wanted him to lead the way. I would follow.”
“ Any exclamation of surprise or praise might be interpreted by him as the direction he must take.”
This is an approach that works well with children who are on the autistic spectrum. They benefit from an accepting, non-confrontational, side-by-side approach rather than face-to-face. I am looking forward to practising it more.