The Boy Who Ran Among Pigeons



Team at the Children’s Educational Centre   “Patinete”

By Gracia Viscasillas


We are going to focus on the work we did with Mario from the age of 2 years and 4 months until he was 3 years old.

The first few days he was accompanied by his mother. When he came, Mario did not talk, he did not pronounce any sounds, with the exception of a strange and frequent scream; he did not respond to his name and he did not make eye contact. He was not interested in other children but he did not avoid them either, he acted as if they were not there, he was not interested in adults either. He enjoyed the garden, and he used to wander accompanied by little cars or buggies he dragged around; while he walked a certain imbalance was noticeable.

He also showed this behavior when going to the park with his mother. He did not play with other children; he pulled the cars and ran among the pigeons, while screaming.

From wandering to pathway


We decided to accompany Mario on his wandering, we added words, and we pointed significant events, we articulated the names of the children around him and also his name to them.


Although he started his stay at the classroom of activities, which has different stations and alternate different spaces and rhythms during the morning, Mario continued his typical wandering around the class, and he only stayed there for very short moments, later wandering around the rest of the school. In the beginning he went directly to the door, he opened it and left the classroom, without paying attention to anybody. As a result of the teachers saying that in order to leave it was necessary to say it and leave accompanied, he started looking for a teacher to leave and taking her on his wandering around different spaces.

Soon we realized that his wandering had a consistent pathway with a special order and that, by pointing at them, he started to ask for the objects that he found along this pathway and which interested him.

At the multipurpose classroom he started choosing and aligning tricycles, cars and motorcycles, taking them and placing them in a small indoor patio; in the garden he continued dragging the pushcarts; at the young children classroom he asked for toys with small balls to put in and out, and toys with buttons to hide and seek. The teachers accompanied this playing with words. Once he was back at the classroom, he could not stand being there for more than a short time and started feeling upset.


We noticed that he calmed down if he could get his buggy and we accepted to get him to it and let him sit in it, although it was difficult to get him out after a while. So we proposed to him “to return the buggy to its place”. There was a place at the entrance where buggies were left. He busied himself placing other children’s buggies in order. Since then he did not need to stay seated for so long; we discovered that this new place had a calming effect on him, lowering his need to scream and modulating his reactive expression.


With this modulation of the scream the first word also emerged: he started to name “ma” different things: for “mama” (mom), but also “toma” (take) or “mas” (more).


At the meeting: a difficulty for the team


We would like to point out something that occurred in between the modulation of the scream and the emergence of a word at one of our team meetings. At this meeting different teachers referred to the strangeness of the scream and the consequent unrest it produced on some of them. A difficulty to be located on the side of the team became apparent: anguish, the need the teachers felt to give “a” meaning to this scream. We put the accent on the scream as a sign of a subject’s suffering and the need to accompany him, to not leave him alone with it; it was important to make a sign to the child that someone listened beyond what the scream could mean. Thus, once the question about “the” meaning was put to one side, each of us felt authorised to respond closely to the child and provide different answers or different signifiers according to each listener.


From outside to inside


Mario was increasingly able to stay in class for longer periods, although these were still short. This happened when he could bring inside what had kept him occupied outside. Instead of aligning the buggies and tricycles in the multipurpose room, he began to align colored discs and little cars in the classroom. If he got upset when the line was interrupted, he would ask a teacher for help taking her by the hand. Later on, he was able to fix the line by himself and became less obsessive to keep the objects “glued” together.


The other children


Although the pacifying effects at this time were remarkable, Mario related exclusively to the adults, avoiding other children.

Luckily, a contingency happened. Another child in his class, Daniel, also needed close attention. And Mario, who still had predilection for the garden and asked to go out often could now do it with Daniel, who followed Mario and called him to join. From a distance it seemed they talked to each other. Then the teacher was able to introduce a new game inside an Indian tent by taking turns under the question “where is…?” Both children enjoyed the new game. Mario said “ah, ah” waiting for the teacher to continue the talk. Later, when the teacher asked Daniel to exit, Mario looking at him said: “come”.


Leaning on this experience the teachers introduced a change around going out to the garden: the group was divided in small numbers so Mario could be in the garden with a few other children. Mario was able to go again into the Indian tent, this time with some others. When a teacher pointed out that a child was playing on a slide, some children including Mario got close to him. We as teachers aimed at taking any activity –coming from Mario or from other children- and giving it the value of play. This strategy allowed us to introduce turns, waiting periods (whilst at the beginning we had to help him by placing the body), and also to introduce the names of the other children and Mario’s own name, to which he began to respond.

From then on Mario began to spend more time in class, sharing the table during breakfast, following others to different activities: playing with play dough, painting, using stickers…

He also started to react when someone pushed him or took away a toy from him, as his relationship with others had changed. As the other children began to include him as just one more, Mario began to exist, he began to have a “self” to whom to relate the object.


Mario was able to follow the flow of the class, finding pleasure in many activities and asking for it in a softer atmosphere: joyful and peaceful among other children who would join him, he also imitated their movements and the materials used for the games, enriching his own world of interests, which was so narrow when he first arrived in the school.

The screaming ceased and he could express his malaise through crying –which both the words and the body of the other were able to relieve. More words were incorporated to his speech: from the gesture with his head to say “no”, he started using the word, later on appeared “yes, mom, dad”; names of food (milk, water, juice, bread) and his favorite toys (motorcycle, car, ball); the names of the teachers, and other words such as “more, this, OK, it is there”. He could make himself understood by means of gestures clearly addressed to the other, and a cheeky gaze that provoked the adults’ reaction emerged. Since then, his language became more fluid and broadened.


The balls


Alongside these accomplishments, we would like to highlight the work carried out with another object of his choice: the balls. He used them in the multipurpose room, when other children were not there. At the beginning, he threw around lots of little balls while running around and screaming, outside of the Other. This reminded us of his initial experiences of running among the pigeons, about which his mother had told us.


By limiting the number of balls, proposing to him to collect them in a box, limiting the space for that game, allowed for the game to become relational: to throw and catch the ball while naming the child and the teacher.

A vignette of this game in the corridor between two rooms: Mario keeps the balls in one extreme of the corridor and throws all the balls towards the other side where the teacher is. He waits for the teacher to do the same towards him. At that moment the door bell rang, so the teacher asks him to wait until she opens the door. To her surprise he replied: “OK”.


Our hypothesis is that during his running after the pigeons or the balls Mario got himself lost, loosing his own boundaries in the chaos of the undifferentiated plurality of objects. Working with few children, few balls, in a circumscribed space (of the game, the place for the buggies, the place for the balls in the box…) made it possible for the object to emerge as differentiated as well as the whole set. It also made it possible for Mario to differentiate himself, which can be observed for example in his responding to his name. For this to take place, it was also necessary the introduction of an Other capable of lodging his proposals.


Translation: Alicia Hadida

Revision: Florencia Fernandez Coria Shanahan