• Suzanne Axelsson

The Gentle Art of Recombobulating

Discombobulated means being confused or being uncomfortable or not feeling together. I think it is a state many of us experience from time to time. I also think this must be something children experience a lot as they try to make sense of the world.


As an autistic person I find I need to recombobulate after a busy few days (or sometimes hours) with lots of experiences, sensory stuff, facts, inspiration etc. It does not mean that the confusion or the feeling of not being together is altogether unpleasant, but it is taking a lot of energy to try and re-group.


After the Play on Early Education Conference here in Athen I took a day to recombobulate. Literally I did nothing, spoke to no-one (except that one person to get a spinach pie in the bakery a couple of doors from where I am staying here).


I daydreamed a whole load.

I watched films.

I was quiet, in a quiet space.

I took a nap.

I made a few posts sorting out some of my thoughts in them - kind of dumping them onto social media so I could let them go in my head.


I took a WHOLE day for me. Today I was ready to write posts, and also ready to start meeting people again.


I keep thinking about children in educational settings - which I imagine is a bit like being at a conference - lots of new information, lots of unpredictable interactions, not knowing what lunch will be, or if things will take longer than expected...

It's not that it is a barrage of lots of negative things... the conference was amazing and inspiring, but it also demands attention, focus and engaging all the senses - which as an autistic person (and I imagine a non-autistic person too) is totally exhausting.


The same with educational institutions - schools and early years. Much of the stuff will be fun, some of it challenging, other stuff boring or scary or... A whole array of emotions and experiences that need to be managed.

Children, especially young children and autistic children, can get overwhelmed easily through exciting, thrilling, challenging and scary experiences and need downtime to recombobulate in order to engage in the next thrilling or whatever experiences. The more tired we get the harder it becomes to self regulate.


I think the lack of recombobulating spaces in preschools and schools is actually a problem. Children (and adults - teachers usually get a staff room to relax and rest in - but even those can be challenging spaces for some) need a space to bring themselves together again, to calm the confusion, to feel comfortable again.


For my son I provided a small "cozy corner" (its what we called it) in his room, with cushions, that was small enough to help contain his big emotions, but big enough to sit their comfortably, and hidden enough to feel safe and private, but open enough that I knew he was safe. When he went there, I waited until he was ready to come out and talk with me. He need the time to recombobulate first. TOO many educators try to solve problems while a child is still in affect. it is impossible, the child is in fight or flight mode... they need to calm down, feel safe and bring themselves together before they can even attempt to start talking about it. Trying before worsens it, and can make the whole feeling discombobulated last longer. Helping a child feel calm can happen in many ways - the small corner, or under a table with a cloth to make a tent, or a different room, or sat on a lap, or a cuddle, or... each child will need their own way to find their calm. In some of the places I have worked at we have been able to create a quiet space... a whole room for children to go to when everywhere else feels overwhelming. All the children know it needs to be quiet there, I describe this in my book Original Learning (autumn 2022). I found the educators sometimes struggled the most with the kind of quiet - it shouldn't be silent, as some children can find that scary too, but it should be calm. Some children when they are recombobulated will start to play again, and it will no doubt start getting louder, this is when the educator needs to take responsibility to ensure the nosier play is either hushed if they want to stay, or asked to move to another location - as the sanctity of this "recombobulation room" is actually incredibly important to take care of.


So what do you do to feel calm again? Do you feel you have permission to take the time you need to recombobulate?



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