About “Acting Out”
The seeds sewn in childhood throw down deep roots. A project we’ve been supporting since 2022 with Down Syndrome Tipperary is doing just that.
This voluntary parent-led organisation was initially supported with a Seed Grant to commission Emily Matthews, a drama education facilitator, to trial ‘Acting Out’. This is a unique person-centred drama programme specifically designed to encourage children and young adults with Down Syndrome to communicate feelings around loss. This might be the loss of a family pet, siblings leaving the family home, or the death of a loved one.
Harnessing the learnings from the trial, we continued working with Down Syndrome Tipperary and Emily. In 2023 an extended programme ran for 12 weeks from April. In continuous consultation with parents, therapists, The Irish Childhood Bereavement Network and other experts during this period, Emily guided the same groups of children to further explore loss through imaginary play and theatre with the aim of helping them learn more about visualising, processing, and expressing feelings of loss.
Given the expressive language of people with DS is often behind that of their peers, they frequently get stuck and struggle to find words, especially when experiencing any kind of loss. This lack of expression can be damaging and result in a build-up of frustration, regression in speech, lack of social engagement, and eventually depression. But through play, games, and exercises, Emily guided children to develop skills for expressing their feelings around loss.
As Emily told us:
There’s a little boy in the group who lost a parent. Through ‘Acting Out’, he was able to see there were others like him who felt sorrow… that it was ok to be sad and ok to be happy.
Delivery of messages was underpinned by rhythm, repetition, and imitation. Emotions were creatively explored through storytelling using books such as ‘The Invisible String’, mime, puppetry, improvisation, song, dance, and active play. Difficult feelings such as anger, anxiety, and sadness, as well as feelings of joy and happiness, were identified and investigated. Creating and promoting opportunities to talk or express feelings was also actively encouraged.
Often the games we play, or the exercises that do, are just conversation starters, and we’re just there to plant the seed, and the conversation might even start up in the car on the ride home, and it’s then when Mam or Dad or whoever is at home, the caregiver, can continue that conversation, or just be there to listen.
The programme culminated with a seminar in July hosted by Down Syndrome Tipperary and attended by parents, therapists, Down Syndrome Ireland, and Maura Keating of The Irish Childhood Bereavement Network. Powerful parental testimonies detailed the short term and enduring effects of loss, illustrating the need for programmes such as ‘Acting Out’ that assist people with limited access to expressive language to acquire the skills to better understand and articulate their feelings around loss. As Down Syndrome Ireland’s Education office Sinead Flynn told us:
Speech and language can be a challenge for people with Down Syndrome. Our children began by not being able to communicate how they felt and by the end of the project were able to express themselves. It was very reassuring for parents because really parents are constantly looking for ways to help their children. Parents can very often feel helpless and this is a wonderful starting point for us in Down Syndrome Ireland to work with families and people with Down Syndrome around the country.
Our aim going forward is to expand this programme building a template for shared learnings to be used by other networks, groups, and organisations nationwide, who can learn from the ‘Acting Out’ programme and adapt this approach to their own needs.
Supporting Youth Address Grief and Loss: Educational Creative Tools
We are delighted to share this series of educational videos demonstrating creative tools designed to help support children and young adults with or without Down Syndrome address grief and loss.
The magic of these tools is they provide a variety of safe ways for self-expression and can trigger important conversations around grief and loss. They are especially helpful for persons with Down Syndrome who can often have difficulties expressing themselves verbally and channeling emotions.
Introduction to Educational Creative Tools
Drama and Movement Therapist Ellie Bailey gives and overview of eight educational creative tools aimed at helping to start supportive conversations with children and young adults around grief and loss.
How Childhood Development Stages Affect Impact of Grief and Loss
Children with Down Syndrome are likely to need extra help to learn about negative feelings as grief can impact them in a different timeline to what otherwise might be expected. By engaging with emotions creatively it becomes possible to express feelings in a contained way.
Making a mind jar with different coloured glitter representing various emotions can be a great way to prompt conversations about things that are worrying children, as well as giving them a device to practice mindfulness whenever it’s needed.
Unravelling a tangled ball of different coloured thread representing various emotions can be a great way to prompt conversations about things that are worrying children. It’s also a great alternative to getting messy with glitter and sand.
Layers of Sand
Filling a container with different coloured sand representing various emotions can be a wonderful way to prompt safe conversations about things that are worrying a child. This is an especially useful tool for using with children who are non-verbal and practicing mindfulness.
Making a memory box for keeping items that connect with a lost loved one is a wonderful way for prompting chats about special memories. There are no rules about what should be kept in a box. However, it’s recommended photos of a lost loved one should also include the person who is making the memory box.
Talking to children and young adults about death and separation is never easy. Using stories can be a good way to open these hard conversations and can also give adults the language to make it easier. By identifying with the characters, listeners can explore different roles and perspectives to gain insight into their own emotions and behaviours.
Stories – The Invisible String Book
Before reading “The Invisible String” picture book alongside Susanna signing for the deaf, Emily outlines the contents of this heartwarming story about the unbreakable connections between loved ones.
Download the “Acting Out” Brochure
Download the “Acting Out” brochure below or contact [email protected] to learn more about its benefits and how to bring “Acting Out” to your local branch of Down Syndrome Ireland.