Behind the rules, the detail


Gracia Viscasillas

Team Child Education Center “Patinete

There is an important issue to remain open and in review in every institution: the matter of the limits, prohibitions, how to use and transmit norms, what their function is, what it is about to regulate.

We will point out that one of the characteristics of “Patinete” is flexibility, which can only be based on a work on the organization aimed at encouraging the institution to be modulated “for each child”. In such a way that the modifications that the particular of a child may require, coexist with the institutional “for all” in an environment that allows the work. All this bearing in mind that our institution is inscribed in the social within the “educational” field.

So where is the boundary between “laissez-faire” and docility to the subject? Well, we are targeting the subject in the child. We have noticed that, sometimes, where the child troubles, the subject may be at work.

One of the points of support of our work is the weekly coordination meetings of the team, from which these two vignettes are taken.

Vignette 1

Juan, a 4-year-old autistic child for whom it was very important that at the end of an activity, everything be left in its place, began to empty boxes, to dump them, to disperse. At the oral level, this dispersal also arises: he began to take the educators to the kitchen and to point out some food. When they are given, the child takes a bite, leaves it on either side, pointing out at another food, and starts over.

At the meeting, two questions emerged from the educators that made us move forward with regard to the case: why did they come to give the object immediately when the child points it out? What is the limit for the educator to let the child do?

On that occasion, we decided to work on the aspect of orality. The questions that arose from the educators, gave game to invent strategies.

On the one hand, it was suggested that the direct sequence pointing-give led us to understand too quickly and unequivocally closing too much other possible answers and other effects. It was then decided not to understand so quickly, to be able to give it, but also to misjudge, to name it, to play with that object, for example, juggling…

On the other hand, we established a rule in which we were also included, regulated: “in “Patinete”, you eat in the place intended for it.” Therefore, if Juan pointed to an apple and it was gave it to him, he would have to refer to that place to eat it, and of course, he could give but a bite and go look for something else. We were aiming to create an interval, to generate a lapse that allowed him to detach himself from that thrust to the object, which could help him to construct an edge, also marking a place.

In addition, educators, whether it be a coffee or a cookie, would have to be seated in the right place. We will point out that the enunciation of this norm was carry essentially from educator to educator, as well as to the group of children – who were so sensitive to this indication that sometimes, if some “distracted” educator drank their coffee standing, they were themselves who reminded him that he had to sit at the table. With these maneuvers he reduce that one meal after another, and we can say that, as an effect, many more words began to emerge, while his scattering was appeased.

I want to point out here the “docility” of the team – a term to distinguish from “laissez-faire” – which is manifested in different ways. On the one hand, educators do not say “no” to repeated requests for objects of food; and on the other hand, they are docile to the established norm and to the moments of enunciation of that norm from their companions and from the children.

Vignette 2

Another scene with another autistic child, also 4 years old, also around the kitchen and orality. It is about Daniel, who after suffering an operation of adenoids, come into play the excess on the side of orality: a vertiginous increase of weight in a child who until then ate very little and a repeated gesture of hand sucking…

On that occasion, a strategy was proposed in relation to the mother, since she began to bring every morning a loaf of whole bread with which she prepared a sandwich in the kitchen that Daniel ate there, although shortly afterwards he had lunch with the other children. Little by little, solving all the difficulties that she said she had, the mother ends up bringing the sandwich already made and wrapped.

On one occasion an educator takes the wrapped sandwich that Daniel holds and wants to eat, and says she will put it in the box along with the other children’s lunches. To her surprise,- this child whose usual response would have been to go grab it at all costs, or scream and flutters-, stands before her, hugs her legs and begins to cry with tears for the first time. The educator, surprised, acts as before any other child: she takes him in her arms and comforts him. We can say that for the second time in this scene she gives him the place of a “child.”

At the coordination meeting, the educator-shocked by those tears- wondered about the limits of her performance, whether she should have given him that sandwich. However, another educator brings to the meeting another scene that brings its counterpoint: The day after the related vignette, Daniel was in the kitchen with another educator, took his sandwich and ran to the room … to where was the educator of the previous scene, to whom he delivered his sandwich.

In this vignette, also the strategy of “no” was in relation to curb an excess. We point out that the limit was not placed on the child but on the mother and on the object, the sandwich. Daniel consented to it, and could be included in the set of the other “children”. We will add that, later on, the mother of Daniel began to put the sandwich in the box of lunches.

What do these vignettes teach us in relation to the subject that occupies us?

In the first place, for putting a prohibition, a norm, we orient ourselves in which was on the side of the excess for Juan and for Daniel. It was to that excess and not to the subject to which we tried to put limit, ceaselessly in the attempt of constituting ourselves in partenaires of the subject in the treatment of the excess that he experiences.

Secondly, that the “norm” concerned us, and we are also subject to it, ruling out arbitrary imposition.

Thirdly, that the established norm took into account something of the particularity of the child.

In relation to Vignette 1, we must say that the enunciation of this norm was made taking into account the particular case of that child; it was not become necessary before, in the normal work of “Patinete”. However, stating a rule, which at that time had a precise foundation, over time, can become a “blind rule” which works by routine catching children and educators in unnecessary “obligations” and that leaves in the background the real work to be done.

This was what happened precisely with this rule of “eating at the table”. Many years after this vignette,- years during which other educators had also joined the team-, in another meeting it was raised the difficulty of the educators to make a child – also autistic and who by that time barely sat down at any activity – eat sitting at the table. In the meeting, it was noted that enforcing the norm had become a priority for educators, leaving the work unattended with the subject. It was necessary to remember where this rule came from, to which they all felt obliged and in difficulty to enforce. This relieved them in such a way that they were able to confront the child they have in front , feeling empowered to develop other strategies in working with him.

Translated by Lorena Hojman Davis