Hi everyone! My name is Karen Dorula and I’m an occupational therapist at GKTC. Elizabeth has challenged us all to jump onto the blog. I’m very excited to be able to share all of the wonderful chess that has been happening here!
I started teaching chess in January 2016 after one of my letterboard clients, William, asked me to teach him “something hard.” I thought of many different challenging topics, such as the periodic table of elements or the physics of outer space, but when I thought of chess, a quote from one of my favorite movies popped into my head: “Knight to e4.” (Yes, it’s a Harry Potter quote!)
I went online and immediately started learning everything there was to know about something called “Algebraic Chess Notation” (ACN). ACN is a system of letters and numbers that correspond to moves on a chessboard. Most players use ACN to record their moves in a game so they can review it later. I thought it would be a perfect way for William to communicate the move he wanted to make and since I’m an occupational therapist, I saw this as a great opportunity for him to practice his motor skills as well.
There was one slight problem. I didn’t really know how to play chess. I had a basic understanding of how the pieces move, but that was it. I reviewed the fundamentals of chess by myself, and then started teaching it to William. We practiced simply moving the pieces to a targeted location. He would spell out the ACN on a letterboard and then I provided him with the least amount of assistance to move the piece. I continued to teach him more advanced concepts by staying only one step ahead at any given moment. This became a problem as I realized just how quickly he was learning. Something that would take me an hour to learn took him only a few minutes. For example, when capturing, you spell out the symbol for the piece you want to move, the file it’s currently on, an x to indicate the capture, and the square you want it to move to. So, if you want to capture a piece using your rook, it might look something like, Raxg5. This took me a longer to learn than I care to admit, but after a few minutes of practice, William spelled, “MAKES SENSE TO ME.”
William loved learning chess so I dove in head first. I spent hours a day playing chess on my phone and watching videos online that I later turned into lessons. After a few weeks, he sat down to play a game with his dad. His parents noted how regulated he was during the game. His body was able to stay extremely calm because his brain was so engaged. As I teach more people to play, regulation is a common result of chess.
William’s first time playing against his dad.
(From left to right: William, George, Karen)
I have now taught dozens of students how to play. At first, I didn’t realize just how perfect chess can be for people who spell to communicate (thank you to Elizabeth for seeing the potential!). Chess is a hobby that can be played throughout a lifetime and you can always learn something new. Since there are small “mini games” you can play, you can practice even if you only have 10 minutes. It’s a fun way to get on the letterboards with family members and practice skills.
Huan and Ian playing a Knight Game, with Huan’s brother and Ian’s dad holding the letterboards.
(From left to right: Thuy, Huan, Ian, Eric)
Chess is also the best equalizer. It doesn’t matter your age, gender, race, language, socioeconomic status, or diagnosis. During a discussion about chess as an equalizer, Dustin wrote: “THAT WAS WHY I WANTED TO LEARN HOW TO PLAY WITH THE LETTERBOARD. PLAYING WITH THE LETTERBOARD IS A WAY TO PLAY WITH YOUR MIND INSTEAD OF YOUR BODY.”
Dustin playing against a friend.
Chess provides the perfect opportunity to meet new friends. Here’s a conversation from a chess sessions with Ethan and Dominic:
E: HI, MY NAME IS ETHAN. KAREN HAS TOLD ME SO MUCH ABOUT YOU. MAY GO PROFESSIONAL WITH CHESS. KIDDING.
D: THAT WAS FUNNY. MY NAME IS DOMINIC. I JUST STARTED PLAYING THIS WEEK. I AM REALLY EXCITED TO PLAY.
E: THANK YOU. MAKES ME HAPPY TO MAKE A NEW FRIEND.
William, Ethan, and Dominic play against each other in pairs or have “Chess Club,” which they have named One For All, so they can learn and practice drills together.
(From left to right: Rabun, William, Ethan, Karen, Dominic)
I’m grateful to William for challenging me to learn something hard. Chess didn’t turn out to be very hard for him, but it has become a hobby that he loves. Chess combines motor, communication, and friendship, which is an OTs dream. My absolute favorite part of chess is the CFF – Chess Friends Forever – that have been formed! These friendships are what push me to stay up to speed with my students and continue to improve with every session.
I will become more active on the blogs to share information and other activities that we’ve been doing at GKTC. Until next time!