Monday, April 11, 2016

Hockey as a guide to behavioral interventions

#1 and I made our first trip to the yearly USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival, special hockey division.

Watching two of his hockey issues I realized they mapped well onto behavioral issues.

He’s a strong player, but very weak at passing. He also over-responds to aggression or even accidents, rapidly escalating. (Sometimes, to his credit, the emotional response is so strong he removes himself from play. Which isn’t a great response, but not the worst. Fortunately this is special hockey, a more forgiving place.)

I think both of these match onto more global issues.

Passing is cognitively hard and, unless one has skilled teammates, often unrewarding. Instead of scoring a goal, the puck goes to the opposing team. The only reason a strong player passes to a weaker player is because of social pressure and social rewards. Turn-taking type behavior in other words. #1 is weak at this kind of interaction; he doesn’t “feel” the social pressure.

Handling escalation is also tricky. #1’s sister can set him off with a look. (If she’s in a bad mood this works well to spread the feeling.) He is unable to respond with an equal or lesser action; in part because he mis-remembers the initial provocation. In his memory it is far bigger than it was; though in hockey the aggression is often flagrant*.

Both of these issues will factor into our summer behavioral program goals. Special hockey will give us a concrete way to manage progress. If he passes the puck, and returns an elbow with no more than an elbow, then we’ll have made real progress.

* Parenthetically, we have a bit of a referee problem in special hockey. If they come from regular hockey they overlook the routine illegal roughness that is hard for even neurotypical players to handle (fights!) and is well beyond what special hockey players can manage. Conversely, if they are used to less competitive special hockey they are unprepared to see elbows thrown and sticks slashed. It’s a hard job.

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