This story was written by two teenage students who knew each other, but were not close friends. Heather, with total blindness, septo-optic dysplasia and many autistic traits, had excellent skills in braille, and loved to write independently. Her greatest challenges were in accepting change and in initiating movement, which impacted her relationships with others, especially peers who were sometimes frightened by her intense outbursts. For example, she often protested and had huge emotional outbursts when transitioning to a yoga class, and refused to participate. When I introduced the idea of writing yoga stories to present to the group, she began to attend the group willingly, and eventually moved to the floor to practice and demonstrate poses. After discovering that story writing and play were helpful in addressing her self-regulation issues in the yoga class, I began to think about using writing to help her collaborate with peers, another important area of need for Heather. She did not like to talk about or process her difficulties with movement or with peer interaction, and the collaborative storytelling context gave her a way to address these issues indirectly, in much the same way that younger children process their emotional challenges in play.
Clara, her partner in this storytelling activity, was a young woman with Traumatic Brain Injury. She had fluctuating visual functioning related to the TBI, and did not read print or braille. Clara’s narrative language was not cohesive, and she frequently drifted from one topic to another in conversation. Like Heather, she had few relationships with peers, preferring to spend her time with adults. At times, she became pre-occupied with adult staff members, such as the residential staff member, Levi, mentioned in this story. In another story, which she developed with me, she enjoyed a fantasy about “switching minds” with her teacher.
The themes which emerged in this story involve those which occur in the students' everyday lives:
- the elevator and the students' frustration with it
- the difficulties which Heather has in physical movement
- the students' need for support and camaraderie
In the storytelling context, as in child’s play, these themes could be explored through their shared imaginative fantasies, and the anxiety that they felt when having more directive conversations was defused. The laughter and joy that occurred in this interaction showed me a new and different way to approach behavior, which was quite helpful for both of the girls in building a mindful approach to their own social emotional challenges.
Text of Story: The Elevator That Just Wouldn't Listen
Reflections from Linda