Activity: Creating a Ritual

The purpose of this activity is to allow a release of an intense emotion, memory or trauma.


Materials for the ritual will vary, especially if the person with FASD is doing the creating. Often these materials come from nature:

  • rocks
  • water
  • twigs
  • wind
  • sand
  • feathers
  • leaves
  • seeds

Consider things that are indigenous to the area, important to the person and/or culturally meaningful.

Consider the use of natural sounds, colour, fabric, abstract painting and sculpture, dance, drama, music and clay for the ritual design.

Consider things that transform through interaction, such as lighting a flame, tying or braiding a rope, weaving strips of cloth, dying white fabric, bleaching dark fabric or releasing things into the wind or water.

Activity overview

The aim of this activity is to release an emotion, debilitating memory or trauma normally accomplished through the brain’s natural abilities.

But what about the brain’s job of releasing? Consider the complex mental tasks of forgiveness, letting go, moving on, remembering in a new redemptive (but no less true) way. The psychological sensation of being ‘stuck’ can be the difference between rational thought and harmful reflexive action.

“lf only I could get unstuck,” said one sixth grade boy with FASD. The answer for Russell? A ritual. A self-made, spontaneous ritual allowed Russell to do what his stubborn brain refused.

Importance of rituals

Historically, ritual is known to powerfully affect 3 very important things:

  1. Community
    • think of all the rituals that transition people from isolation to some form of togetherness, union or community
    • rituals bring people together where once there was loneliness, alienation and painful division
  2. Order
    • in the absence of order, rituals rush in to create it.
    • Consider the comforts of ritual (walking the dog) when one part of your life is falling apart (someone has died) or the comfort of routine (washing dishes in your new apartment) while everything lies in shambles (so much unpacking to do)
    • consider the communal rituals that arise in response to tragedy, natural disaster and terrorism
    • one child with FASD described ritual as a tether pole – while everything else spun wildly around her, rituals were her one stable center
  3. Passageway
    • rituals are a passage towards change

Rituals and FASD

Planned or spontaneous, simple or complex, symbolic actions have a way of processing what, for others, the brain does almost automatically. The FASD brain sometimes needs outside help.

If the person with FASD has problems releasing emotion safely or letting go of resentment or on their interpretation of things, a ritual can serve as an external brain tool.

Rituals designed carefully with few words, meaningful symbols and high participation can allow people with FASD to experience a transformation from isolation to community, from chaos to order, from one way of being into another.

Activity instructions

Designing a ritual

  1. Assist the individual in recognizing what needs changing.
  2. Further identify what positive change would look like.
  3. Assist with realistic goal-setting by asking: “If you could get a little bit of what you want ...”
  4. Ask: If we could change this magically, what would we need to make it happen?
    • the answer may provide clues to the materials you will require or the actions you will do
  5. Explain that ritual might not make things change, but it creates an opportunity to think differently, move a little closer to a goal or see things from a different perspective.
    • new thoughts lead to new actions, forward movement is the opposite of feeling stuck and imagination is a powerful source of motivation
  6. Be mindful of timing.
    • is this a conversation that will last many days and lead to an elaborate design?
    • or is this a ritual that needs to happen in the next 15 seconds to harness the magic?
  7. The ritual should have a beginning, middle and end.
    • for the spontaneous kind, this will happen naturally
    • follow the lead of the person with FASD
    • help only as needed
    • the more they direct the action, the greater the chance for a change in thinking, imagination or emotion
  8. Be prepared for emotion. When rituals work, emotions sometimes bubble to the surface – nervous laughter, the giggles, smiles mixed with tears, hugs and sobbing.
  9. Be gentle and light on words in response to the emotion and throughout the process.
Modified: 2015-09-09
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