Saturday, September 13, 2008

Paper Airplane Therapy

There is an institution in Brooklyn for developmentally delayed children. It was pretty new in 1975. They looked for Psychology Assistants. That's how I got started. I passed the Civil Service test for the position. They ranked those who took the examiner in order of their scores. There would be about 130 jobs for the 3000 or so who took the exam. It was my good fortune to have scored well enough, with my undergraduate major in Political Science and my 12 credits in Psychology to get a job. I then went to graduate school in Psychology.

My first task was to somehow get a 20 year old, visually impaired young man whose measured intelligence was somewhere between 20 and 30 (IQ or standard score) to go to school. He was staying in his room and refusing to go. Nothing had worked to entice him to walk across the campus to the school building. My supervisor told me to get together some games, paper and crayons to make friends with him so that I could entice him to go to school.

The first day was a total failure. I took out some material that was appropriate for his functional level, sat at a table in his room and invited him over. He just said, "No." I stayed for the required time and left.

Benjy was a friendly fellow with thick eyeglasses and a winning smile. He eventually sat across the table from me smiling. Every effort to get him to play that first week was met with the same response, "No."

Friday could not come quickly enough. I sat across from Benjy, and I must confess that I was bored. Benjy was not bored. He just would not work, and would not go to school. My boredom resulted in taking a piece of paper and folding it into a paper airplane. I took it and gently flew it toward him, where it bounced off of his tummy. Benjy smiled, stood up with the paper plane, and threw it.

Now, I had a plan for Monday. I arrived with a fresh paper airplane (the latest model). Benjy was there waiting for me. I faced him toward the door of his room, and handed him the white paper airplane. Benjy threw it toward the door. He ran to it. I was right behind. When he got the plane I turned him toward the opening of the doorway. The plane went out of his room and so did Benjy. That morning, Benjy threw the plane across campus and into school. He sat at his desk with that plane on it, and did his work.

The paper airplane took him took school and back home every day after that. It was so weird that I became known as the person who changed a resident's behavior with a paper airplane!

No comments: