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!
When I left off with Jay it was because he had gotten up and expressed a clear desire to leave the room. He has learned to say “bathroom” even if he doesn’t really need to use the restroom as a way to get his volunteers or parents to open the door outside. He did this and then ran downstairs. When I made my way downstairs I found him crying on the kitchen floor, in tears and wailing about pizza. The exact stimulus doesn’t matter but apparently something of his had been removed by mistake, and Jay, upon noticing, went into hysterics. First, that Jay had another meltdown and was still crying as I left, tells me that he is feel emotional fragile today – whether from our lessons or external circumstances I can’t know for sure. I would guess a combination of the two. Knowing his state, I will monitor during our next lessons more closely and probably do less with him. A person in a state up upset is less available to learn.
Then, the question is how to invite Jay out of meltdown, quickly and comfortably? To begin with Mary was calm, which is already an excellent step. Jay had been thrashing so she held a pillow to herself, that she could use to ward of blows. To encourage her calm, I placed my hands gently on her pelvis as she stood near Jay to remind her to relax even further.
Next, I went down to the ground and approached Jay, carefully watching his reaction. As I went to touch him, and perhaps offer his some pressure like he was getting underneath the mattress earlier, he scooted away from me on the floor. I accepted that clear “no!” and backed off. Had I stayed with Jay I would have continued to explore what variations of proximity and distance would result in him calming most readily. It is possible that he would have gotten even more agitated had we left him alone in the room but it is also possible that our presence, looking at him, spiked his agitation. These are very person-dependent and can easily be tested by trying subtle variations and noting responses.
A final point, I think is essential not to force movement on Jay or anybody in the face of clear opposition. I wonder how often children with special needs learn to hate the practitioner or work simply due to the practitioner or parents feeling pressure to make progress. It would often be tempting for me to get exasperated with Jay when he is uncooperative but that variety of action is likely to result in future dislike of our work together. Instead, by taking his cues as to when we are done with our work together I am creating a more respectful relationship, the kind that we all prefer with children, partners, parents, and everyone is our lives. With that endpoint in mind, instead of the immediate gratification of short-term “success” I am not tempted to more than a child indicates and we maintain a respectful bond.