This is the second story of my account of an intensive with a little boy with autism named Jay. I suggest you read the first post and please leave your thoughts in the comments below!
The afternoon with Jay was a different story entirely. His mother Mary and I began with a short discussion of where I would give him the lesson – upstairs in his playroom, downstairs in the open living room, or in an unoccupied office room. In retrospect, that is a conversation that I could have and should have had by telephone before the lesson began. Because I want, in any interaction with Jay, to subtly teach him that I am associated with lessons (which, we hope, he will enjoy) taking that time out to discuss location distracted from the purpose of my visit. To compound the mater, we moved 3 times over the course of that hour – from the equipment upstairs, to the downstairs office, to finally back upstairs to Jay’s playroom.
I also had some difficulty with his new reticence to receive the lessons. He said “no, later!” several times quite clearly. Almost always, I take a clear no from a child to mean no – for now. Because of how comfortable and enthusiastic Jay was with lying on my table to begin with, I assumed (falsely) that we would continue in that vein. The propensity to expect things to be a certain way, with autism but actually with anybody and everybody, is a downfall and will inevitably short-circuit any relationship.
Regardless, I gave Jay’s mother a lesson during our afternoon session, instructed her while she worked some with me, and instructed her in how she can continue to apply the principles of learning and specific movement techniques with Jay. I also continued to invite Jay both towards receiving lessons from me or his mother, and also towards a relationship with me in general. I don’t feel any need to be liked by the children I work with, but them feeling affectionate towards me makes working with them much easier. If the child prefers a power struggle or similar form of complicated dynamic, the clarity of movement train must take second place to establishing a conducive environment for learning. With Jay I built up our relationship by checking in with him regularly, saying “Hi” with enthusiasm that I really felt, and pushing him on the swing.
This last merits a short description. Jay’s family has a beautiful free-standing swing set in their backyard and Jay had left our office-lesson room for the swing, outside. He was swinging gently when I went out to check on him and he asked me, unclearly, and then clearly when I told him that I didn’t understand, to push him. I began to push him from behind, then asked myself the question: “what’s a variation.” This simple question is one I use regularly with kids on the spectrum and is always effective. I began to hold onto the swing, stopping Jay at the apex of his swing. He would then shout, “let go” and I would do so. This quickly became a game and I would catch ahold of the swing on every apex and release him on command. The unexpectedness of his swing halting and resuming in an unusual pattern delighted him. (It is actually my experience that unexpected movement, once evaluated as safe, is always delighting.) Suddenly, Jay has recognized that the swing can have more than just the comfortable back-and-forth that he has come to expect. Additionally, he will now associate me with that pleasing experience.
This is just the first day of a ten-lesson series with Jay and I look forward to what tomorrow will bring!