Toby is new to No Limits and very unique to us also, as he is only 10 and therefore much younger than any child we have worked with before. Toby spent time in and out of many schools across the borough due to his complex behaviour and diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which mainstream and special schools did not have the capacity to support. Toby is currently being supported in a partnership between No Limits and an outdoor education centre.
My first few shifts with Toby consisted of me shadowing sessions led by his current support worker Mark, at the outdoor education centre. You can imagine that trying to implement any form of control or direction in an activity, when working with a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, is a challenging task. Toby refused to follow his bespoke timetable tailored by MacIntyre and the centre.
In a bid to be creative, Mark and I suggested activities that encapsulated Toby’s interests, but these were unsuccessful. In the week prior to this session, Mark had discovered a vulnerable side to Toby; a young boy with low self-esteem, insecure attachments and untrusting of everyone. This was revealed following a new approach to support; to defy Toby’s need to be demanding and controlling by taking control of his timetable, setting activities and following through with them despite his responses.
So, today I braved myself for what could be a rollercoaster ride. Mark had planned an ecology lesson to learn about mice and their habitat. To do this, we would need to capture some mice! Mark laid out a selection of friendly mouse traps with bait; peanut butter and hay, which we needed to put together and collectively lay in shrubbery in the centre grounds; Toby had other plans. Toby wanted to stay indoors with 3:1 support and have all staff sit in silence watching him playing games on the computer.
So here it began; our desperate attempt to creatively engage Toby in an activity he was adamant not to do. Mark and I began making up the mouse traps; stuffing them with hay and spoonfuls of peanut butter whilst talking Toby through the steps of the process. Toby ignored us and continued to play his game. We then worked at shutting the trap doors and preparing the equipment for outside. Toby started to get on edge at the prospect of us leaving him inside alone whilst we went out. His initial attempts at ignoring turned into negative facial expressions and verbal aggression directed at Mark and I.
We picked up all the equipment and made our way to the door to go outside; constantly subtly observing Toby to identify what stage of defiance he was experiencing. Toby stood up, becoming confrontational and showing aggressive body language. He continued shouting personal insults and demanding we stay in. He blamed us for only caring about ourselves and only doing activities we want to do. We continued the activity, ignoring the negative behaviour and remaining positive, talking directly to Toby in a calm and caring manner. We positioned ourselves so he could always see what we were doing and so that he felt we were being warm and open to him should he wish to join in. Toby continued to demand that we not leave the room and that there is no way we would be coming.
Mark and I walked outside to the field, always looking back to see if Toby was following. After 10 minutes, there was no sign of Toby. I felt nervous but Mark stayed relaxed, reassuring that this was the best way to help Toby. Another 10 minutes went passed and we were almost sure his defiance had outdone us; he appeared! We quickly walked on to make it look like we had been enjoying the activity, welcoming Toby with open arms; Toby welcoming us with more verbal abuse and anger.
As we lay the mouse traps, we observed the natural habitat of the mice. Toby stood a good 10 metres away and acted disinterested, folding his arms and frowning. We acted as if we were in deep discussion about what we were doing, picking up props from the floor to make it look like we were doing something very important. Toby’s expression gradually started to change; I could see him looking over in our direction, intrigued and obviously feeling like he was missing out. He moved closer. As we positioned the mouse traps on the floor, I looked up to find Toby peering over my shoulder and asking me questions about what I was doing. At last he was interested! He picked up the flag poles and decided he’d take ownership of this part of the activity. Toby proudly walked with the flags, digging each one in the ground next to where each mouse trap lay, continuously asking us questions about the mice; “what do they eat”, “when will they be in the trap”, “when will we see them”, “can we come back in the morning to get them”.
For the whole journey back to the centre, Toby was enthusiastic, patting Mark on the back, putting up his hand at me for a high five. He asked if I’d come back tomorrow to pick up the mouse traps with him; I couldn’t be there, but we agreed he would take pictures and tell me all about it next week. The afternoon was an achievement!
I could see how through good observation skills, we were able to recognise the stages of the defiant cycle Toby was going through and consequently could adapt our approach to ultimately get him involved. I learnt a lot from Toby; how on the outside he appeared abusive, aggressive and uninterested, but underneath he was vulnerable and in need of boundaries to help him progress. But it was only by reflecting on the interactions of that day that this became obvious to me: they were Great Interactions. The warmth, positioning, observation, touch and creativity from Mark and I, helped Toby see we cared and wanted to help him, consequently strengthening his trust in us.
In the short time I was able to support Toby, sessions with him helped widen my experience and knowledge of support approaches and improved my facilitation skills.
Rachel Parsons Community Learning FacilitatorNo Limits Reading