What follows is the continuation of a story of my work with a little boy with autism and his family. To learn more read the first post and please leave comments below!
My second lesson of the day with Jay was quieter than the first. It was also quicker and a useful reminder that the child I’m working with frequently knows best. It began with me opening the door to Jay’s playroom and Jay promptly leaving. He ran downstairs and outside to his swing, then very quickly retraced his steps back to the room. It almost like he was exerting his control and reminding us who is in charge of what he does and does’t do. Then for the first few minutes in the playroom Jay keep emphasizing “Open. Open!” in reference to his playroom door. Thus far, he has always been insistent that the door is closed and locked when we are inside together. I found myself reacting by wanting to close the door so that he wouldn’t leave again, so that I wouldn’t need to go after him. I remember one of my teachers saying that the difficulty of working with children with autism came of always chasing after them. I realize now that my desire for the door to be closed came entirely from my own preference to not need to follow Jay again downstairs, and not actually from the question of “what is best for him, right now.” Next time, when I find myself wanting to close the door against his preference I’ll pause and reflect. Anyway, a few minutes later he did want the door closed and we were happy to oblige.
Jay flopped down on my table on his belly and I began to work with him in that position. Since this was a position we know well and he seemed quite comfortable, I took several “chances” that I might not otherwise. For starters, I placed my hand under his shoulder and worked around his sternum, while he was on this belly. This meant that my arm was close to his face. If he was at all uncomfortable with me, that movement and level of physical intimacy would have spiked. I would not have been at all surprised if he had moved away from me. He didn’t and we spent quite a bit of time working with one of my hands underneath him and the other on his shoulder or spine. Something else I did with Jay which did not turn out quite so well was begin to teach Mary simultaneously with the lesson with Jay. I bent over to touch Jay’s spine, then instructed her in doing so. In focusing on her, Jay was being somewhat ignored and noticed. With an air of “if you’re not going to attend to me, I’ve got better things to do!” he got up and moved around the room.
There’s nothing particular to be done in such a situation expect try (and try and try) again. However, prioritizing consciously in each moment a priority I’ve found very beneficial. For example, was it more important to be teaching Mary or continuing my lesson with Jay? I took a gamble and tried to do both. Either one is the so-called correct answer, just two different options to be considered.
Jay’s ending to the lesson was sudden and caught me by surprise. I have another client, Freyja, who is absolutely clear when she wants to be done with our work together. She will say so, explicitly, and then get up and move to a new activity. I haven’t seen Jay exhibit this level of clear intention away from lessons and so when he did I didn’t think to recognize it as such. He began to insist “outside,” “outside” and then began to gesture at my table and say “close.” We walk a fine line between inviting a child towards more movement and learning if we think they are ready for it, and trying to force them to do something they don’t want to do. Jay went so far as to help me close up my table, encouraging me verbally as we went along. I thanked him for his efforts and then went out of the room with him. The best tool I have found in those moments of uncertainty is the question: “What is the most useful thing for Jay, right now?”