Learning to Recognize Discomfort

Posted: April 19th, 2014 | Category: News | 0 comment

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!


Simultaneous Exhibition 

Later in the lesson, after I had worked with Jay for a quiet, solid 30 minutes or more, Jay got up and began to walk around. I took the opportunity to have Robert lie down on the table to begin a session with him. My intention had been to have Mary practice applying slow and variation with Robert under my supervision, but as soon as Robert was on the table Jay sat down next to him. Pretty soon Jay was curled up next to Robert, beside him and then lying on top of him. Taking the situation as it presented itself, I began to work with them both. I have often thought it would be fun (and challenging!) to work with two different people on two tables simultaneously. Like a chess master conducting a simultaneous exhibition I delight in the idea of going back and forth between the two people, working with them both and challenging my awareness to a new level. I did this with Robert and Jay!

Recognizing Discomfort

I began by moving Robert, which facilitated Jay to gently shift beside him. As Robert began to relax Jay was able to experience the difference and the ease of tension. While I was working with Jay I also noticed a tendency that I sometimes still observe in myself, and frequently in others. Jay would shift onto a new part of Robert, from his side to his stomach, for example, and Robert would tense in discomfort. I began by reminding Robert that his own physical comfort was essential, but that single reminder didn’t drive the point home. Instead, every couple of minutes when Jay shifted, Robert would put up with a new discomfort. Once all of Jay’s weight was on Robert’s hip and I suggested Robert bend his knees with his feet in standing as a more comfortable variation. Another time his arm was going to sleep from the weight of Jay’s head and it took my reminder for him to adjust. Robert, meaning well, was putting his comfort second to his perception of what he thought best for Jay. Actually, by shifting to a more comfortable position himself, Robert is modeling physical comfort and over time helping Jay to recognize the difference. We all do this, at times: prioritizing another’s comfort over our own. But doing so with the recognition of that action is essential and easily overlooked.

Forward and Backward

A moment of joining and building with Jay came when he once threw himself hands-first onto the floor. At the time I happened to have my hands on his pelvis and supported some of his weight as he caught himself on his hands. Then with my hands and words I invited him back to standing, saying “backward.” Jay then made as if to throw himself forward again, and I said “forward.” This very quickly became a game of backward-and-forward. Several minutes later when I stepped back Jay continued to plunge forward and push himself backward, grinning wildly and shouting “forward” and “backward.” What started as a single isolated movement we turned into an engaging game. Later, Mary, Jay’s mother, told me he had never done those actions before. The expression on his face alone was enough for me to know how much he enjoyed our new game.

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