Change is a crazy thing. An inexorable force. Something we often avoid. Something we try to embrace. We fear it, we love it, we prepare for it, we deny it. We even mock it (Tina Fey comes to mind, lampooning the notion of change when her 30 Rock character Jack Donaghy attends a corporate “retreat to move forward”). Change is a force we should all try to understand, coexist, and collaborate with.
In the context of TCS, change is a monster, a tool, and a celebration. As a monster, it scares our students and participants. Change is the unpredictability of a loud noise, or a disagreeing friend, or a forgotten lunchbox. For people whose sensory systems are uneven or over-reactive, these “little” changes can be catastrophic, leading to paranoia, extreme withdrawal, and fight-or-flight reactions. Time and again have I seen students go to great lengths to make things stay the same. I remember one student denying the reality of chance, insisting that dice should be made to roll in a pattern. I have seen students engage in elaborate rituals, insisting on telling the same story over and over, or washing their hands in a certain specific way, or only engaging in certain activities with “that” teacher, and not any other. For individuals with weak visual-spatial thinking, or challenged motor planning, or sensory integration difficulties, change can rip them apart, devouring their self-confidence and preventing them from developing any sense of grounded stability.
As a tool, change is an excellent way to help individuals to grow. Properly managed and sensitively introduced, change helps us all to stretch our capacity for thinking and problem-solving. Unexpected occurrences lead us to tolerate an ever wider range of emotions: frustration, anticipation, excitement, disappointment. With the right amount of scaffolding and within the context of nurturing, playful relationships, change pushes us ahead. This is one of the pillars of Floortime, that within the context of an accepting, affectively warm relationship, we can help people to handle surprises, or negotiations, or emotional reactions from others. We do it a little at a time, with lots of warmth and playfulness sandwiched around the challenge; but we always think about introducing change and more change.
As a celebration, change is the best. A new book! A field trip! An unexpected movie during lunch! As our social-emotional systems develop, most of us love the unexpected, and it is a pleasure to experience the thrill of wondering what’s around the corner, or what might happen next. For some of our students, the celebration of change must be small—a single new food, or a few minutes trying a new game before returning to the old, or meeting one new person, but only briefly.
Change as celebration can trigger all kinds of emotions. I just got invited out to dinner, and I get to choose the place. Do I pick old and familiar? Or new and untried? Or something in between? How much change can I tolerate and still enjoy it? We shall see, we shall see…