Working with our clients
Jeannie is a lady in her fifties with little independent movement and very little sight. She responds to being touched by hitting her head – hard.
Jeannie doesn’t use words, but does make sounds and sometimes seems to relax when we sing. What we might do is ‘echo’ her sounds back to her, letting her know that we’ve noticed her and are responding in her language. This can develop into a conversation without words, playing with volume and pitch and pauses. Jeannie can become more confident at this stage and may even let us touch her hand or ruffle her hair. – sometimes she’ll even let us massage her feet with aromatherapy oils.
On another occasion we might sing a song that we’ve noticed Jeannie has relaxed to before. But we want to make this an interactive experience to help Jeannie get the message that that she can be in charge of what we do together. So what we do is pause after the first verse and tell her that when she makes a sound, we’ll know she wants us to carry on. When we first did this we didn’t know whether Jeannie would understand, or whether her sounds would be random or deliberate. Now her responses are clear and consistent; she looks alert and leans forward at the end of each verse and we are sure she knows she is in charge of our singing. This can be an empowering experience and it’s what we are aiming for with all our clients, whatever activity we are sharing.
Terry, has a complex physical disability as well as a learning disability and a visual impairment. He has very limited movement and appears to take very little notice of what’s happening around him.
We noticed that he put a lot of effort into raising his arm to his nose. His arm and most of his hand are encased in a splint, which is lined with a furry fabric. We saw that a little of this fabric touched his nose each time he raised his hand. We thought that he might be putting all this effort into this action to experience the feel of the fur on his nose. We wanted him to know that we had noticed his interest and would respond to him through it. In our box of equipment we have a few pencil cases, each made of different textures and each filled with a different ‘stuffing’ (survival blanket, bells, bubble wrap etc.). We chose one with a similar texture to Terry’s splint lining. Next time he touched his nose, we put a hand on his shoulder (our signal to let him know something was going to happen) and then gently stroked the pencil case across his nose, once. His facial expression changed. We tried it again and he said ‘Oooh’ in a soft tone which was unusual for him. The next time, we altered the action by stroking his chin instead; he vocalised again and smiled. This was the first time we had seen him smile, so we knew we had made a connection with him.
Over the next few months, we built on this connection, always trying to match our action to one of his, no matter how small, so that Terry was getting the message that we were responding to him – he was in charge. Terry showed us that he was getting braver about physical contact and we built on this by introducing anticipation games involving shoulder rubs and hand shakes. Over time, this has led to Terry confidently joining in a game with his housemates, involving a large body-ball being rolled from one person to another. As long as we still stick to the anticipation signals he has established with us, Terry trusts us enough to join in on his terms.
Names have been changed to protect confidentiality but otherwise these are all real life examples.