Rubik’s cure: The healing power of play

A Rubik’s cube helps one boy fit all the pieces of his life together.


 

Our son Julian was born bright—he talked and walked early, put words together in new ways, but seemed to find the world a perplexing place. “Turn off the dark,” when he was afraid, “Turn on the heatiator,” when he was cold. He was clingy, wouldn’t play with toys or puzzles, wouldn’t sit and eat, and couldn’t sleep. ‘Bright’ became ‘special,’ became ‘special needs.’

At school he was bored by worksheets and rules and refused to conform. A teacher thought if he got glasses, he would be fine. He wasn’t. We tried swimming, judo, fencing, model making. Nothing sparked his interest.

At age seven came the assessments: dyslexia, Aspergers, ADHD and finally an understanding that, yes, we had a MENSA child, and no, he was never going to ‘fit in.’ He had an exceptionality that needed appreciation, not suppression.

When Julian moved schools at 13, he watched an older boy solve a Rubik’s cube. His curiosity became an interest, became an obsession, and soon Julian could solve the Rubik’s cube within a few minutes, then in seconds.

He found ‘speed solving’ somehow satisfying and therapeutic, and it connected him to a big, wide world of UK competitions, World Championships, TV appearances. A community of people like him. That little cube in his backpack helped Julian make sense of the world.

rubik's cure

But being the UK’s fastest teen speed solver didn’t impress everyone. A girl he admired made a nasty comment, and Julian stopped solving. Then adolescence began, and his world fell badly apart. Alcohol, drugs, depression, a suicide attempt.

Years later, a new girl friend asked him if he could still solve the puzzle. He could. And with her encouragement he set up a Rubik’s Club for local kids who are a bit different. Now 24, Julian’s life is back in order. Working a proper part-time job, attending university in the evening, running the Rubik’s Club. He manages to fit all the pieces together.

“When you get a cube it’s scrambled, disorganised,” he says. “You have to put in the work to get to a more ordered state.”

Entropy is a lack of order or predictability; a gradual decline, like a sand castle. Reverse entropy is when things become more in order; the opposite of randomness and chaos. Julian makes sense of life as he solves a mixed up, messy Rubik’s Cube, one turn, one step at a time. A little plastic toy to most people; a lifesaver to my son.

 

Photo credit: Christian Teillas (header); Eden Brackstone (featured)