Recently I took advice from someone far more experienced in working with children and young people with disabilities than myself. I asked her about the thorny issue of how to refer to her client group, en mass. Yes, I realise about the value of the individual, but bear with me here. She told me that she preferred the term ‘disabled children and young people’. The other acceptable ‘organisation-friendly’ phrase, she told me, is ‘children and young people with additional requirements/needs’. So, not ‘special needs’. I have it on good authority.
Now, I write this because I’m currently working with a group of disabled adults/adults with additional requirements/needs. I have been thinking of their play. There are those who write on play matters who disregard adult play, preferring to focus solely on the play of children. That is their focus, and I have a commitment to focusing and learning on this area too. However, play runs through us all. Adults play. I’m interested in all forms of it. Here, now, the tone of this posting will unashamedly drift into something a little more . . . esoteric.
Earlier in the year I presented at the national playwork conference on the subject of amalgamated play types. I had done as much research as I could, I’d thought about the play frames I was observing with children I was working with at that time, I had given it all due consideration. I was lucky enough to talk with Bob Hughes, on the comfy seats of the conference bookshop, tucked away in the corner as we were. We discussed observations and play types, amongst other things. He alluded, again, to wishing he hadn’t written the play types research up. The thing had become a checklist, in certain quarters, he told me.
Here’s the main dynamic of my amalgamated play types presentation: don’t look at the singular play types – it’s too boxy; look at the whole. Observe the space, the holistic, this amalgam of children, resources, physical and affective ingredients, the space itself. More than this. See the whole thing, as Bob puts it, in terms of ‘background noise’, as the ‘merging’.
I’m working with disabled adults/adults with additional requirements/needs. This is still a little clumsy. I’m working with these adults who play. As I do this, I can only use the skills I have to make sense of the space: I see possibilities of metalude, cues and returns, the holistic whole of amalgamated play types. The pace of play is slower than what I’m used to with children. I fall into lulls: I miss things and I tell myself off for it. An argument winds itself up slowly, and I miss the trigger and even the altercation itself because I’m lulled: I see adults interacting, I see child-like playfulness, but I don’t always marry the two together. I’m fascinated, but I’m a little like the fish who flops on the edge of the shoreline.
If analysis is a breaking down of things, and synthesis is a putting back together again, what I do is something of both at once. Yet, I know – in the spirit of holistic, amalgamated, merging, non-checklistedness – that analysis and synthesis are too boxy. However, analysis does show me – if I do confine myself to the ‘sixteen currently recognised play types according to Hughes’ – that these adults are more inclined to social play, communication play, rough and tumble play, with maybe a touch of object play and symbolic play thrown in.
I walked this morning, because walking helps me think. So, present tense: I find myself at the river because sitting helps me think more. I sit and watch the way the river flows: the rise and dip, the rise and dip, similar patterns in the rise and dip here and here and here, yet different every time; the spittle on the surface and its flow; the background weeds and reeds drifting and swaying. A moment of epiphany arises: this play, this flow, that runs through us.
A friend of mine is a dancer. Many years ago, she taught me about what she called ‘the cosmic wave of the Universe.’ This flow, this cosmic wave, this holistic merging amalgamated rise and dip, rise and dip: this play through us.
Where am I going with all of this? I sat at the river and thought about the individual play frames of individual adults I’m working with (the merging of social, communication and rough and tumble, with a touch of object and symbolic play): I thought of any given one of these play frames, a mix, being like a cocktail. I thought of these mixes, over weeks, blurring together. The river of play that runs through all of these adults, in that room, at that time, and in me.
Bob writes about proto-play types and perceived complex play types. I have been struggling to fix the proto or complex tag onto the play of the adults I’m working with: these adults with their adults’ needs and desires, and with their playful child-like qualities. I can only view our interactions, each adult with one another, each adult with me, in terms of the river flowing. We’re all a part of this.
So, the rough and tumble aspect of the adults of this group is gentle and trusting, exploring and ignoring or testing of social etiquettes, with love and with innocence or with subtle and not-so-subtle lack of naivety, respectful, utterly uninhibited, brash and at arms’ length. The social play is an ignoring and a refining or a redefining of received wisdom on rules of engagement, and it’s a deliberate infusion of edginess with an innocence, with a semblance of worldly-wiseness. The communication play is repetitive and finding out and novel and with affection, without malice, sharp and concise and arbitrary. The object and symbolic play fuses into the rough and tumble, the social, the communication: people as objects for the finding out – a poke and a laugh and a touch and a manipulation of emotion or of the physical self, such as in the invitation to dance.
At the river it was all very clear: see the merging, the flow, the cosmic wave, call it what you will. It’s more than just checklisted items, this play: it’s of children, of adults; it’s the nature of things. Words aren’t adequate enough.