‘Playing’ or being playful with the people we support is possibly one of the most misunderstood, yet arguably most beneficial, aspects of our time during sessions. Sometimes play is seen as something age-inappropriate, has no purpose or benefits.
There are many theories about the benefits of play for adults and there is a lot of evidence to support these theories. In this Resource Sheet I want to focus on a small part of the practical aspects of how we use play at Us in a Bus, what it looks like and how, for us, it’s an integral part of Intensive Interaction.
Being playful can be fun and energetic (although not always). We visit a 50 year old lady called Elizabeth once a week. Elizabeth uses a wheelchair, has a profound learning difficulty and has good hearing and eyesight. She makes some gentle high-pitched sounds, which are louder when she is interested, excited or happy. She also raises her arms in the air when she makes these sounds.
When we were first getting to know Elizabeth she would often wheel herself away from us, turning her wheelchair away and heading out of the room. We would creep around beside her as if we were being ‘sneaky’ and reflect her facial expression in ours; sometimes it was a smile, sometimes a cheeky sideways glance and sometimes a frown. If it was a frown we would take that as a sign that she had had enough and was ready to leave. If it was a smile or a sideways glance then we would continue with the game. My colleague and I might take it in turns to creep in front of her and repeat her sound. We would deliberately exaggerate our movements and facial expressions and, depending on her response increase the volume and intensity of our sounds. At times this game might progress into us moving quickly around the room, hiding from Elizabeth and then re-appearing. On other occasions the game might take a calmer direction with us crouching next to Elizabeth, whispering and popping our faces in and out of her line of sight. Which direction the game took would depend on Elizabeth’s responses. If she was lively and excited, so were we. If not we’d mirror that mood too.
The playful element is about not needing to be too serious when we are mirroring someone’s behaviour and echoing their sounds (using Intensive Interaction). We can smile and have fun too and add our own personalities to the way in which we celebrate someone’s actions. It is important to act on how we like to have fun whilst keeping the focus on the person we are with. This way of being can be lost by the time we get to adulthood – being playful can be deemed as silly in the adult world, or being playful is expressed verbally, using jokes, irony and sarcasm.
Word play has no meaning to someone who doesn’t use words to communicate, instead we use their language of sounds, facial expressions and body movements. Simply sharing a joke with someone using their language is something we can all appreciate; the fun is mutual, never at anyone’s expense, the benefits are (amongst many), feeling relaxed, happy, connected and valued.
Janice Cooke, Senior Practioner