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!
This morning with Jay was dramatically different than our previous work together. Having made the decision yesterday to work in his playroom, I walked up the stairs and into his room even before seeking him out and greeting him. (He wasn’t near the entrance to be greeted.)
Today his mother and father were both present and eager to observe. Other than checking in with his mother about how Jay had been today, and her experience since the night before, I began immediately with my attention on Jay. One exception I made was to check in with Jay’s mother if he had watched her video of him on the swing from the day before – he had – and reminding her about our conversation of the day before to record my work with him, so that he might continue to observe himself later in the day.
In the first few minutes of the lesson I verbally invited Jay to join me on the table, which I had set up for our work. When he didn’t initially take me up on the invitation and instead lay down beside his bed, I approached him and began to work with him there. Throughout the session, he continued to prefer the floor and his bed to my table, so instead of trying to force him to do otherwise, I joined him on the floor and worked with him there. Whereas during our previous sessions, we had had dozens of interruptions with sporadic hands-on work, today we had only a couple of moments where Jay stood up and walked around. While I can work with any child simply through applying the principles of learning without any direct contact, the level of refined touch that I employ allows children to feel themselves and learn much more quickly. While I always strive not to need to touch a child, especially because children with autism will so often sense my need and resist, it is always my preference to be able to.
Jay spent most of the lesson lying on his side, often with his hands underneath his pelvis. This was a position he adopted previously for brief moments and I had made use of it in giving him mother a lesson, too. By creating a commonality of movement between what Jay was doing and his mother’s physical experience the day before, I was able to take moments of pause from Jay’s session to explain how I followed (instead of trying to change) his movement patterns, just as I had joined Jay’s mom’s patterns of the day before. This joining in movement is something that every social dancer knowns, and that many people do instinctively in daily social interaction. However, while dancers in Argentine tango know that when one person is physically indicating a forward step, that step is to to be built upon and followed, people rarely apply those sample principles in physical movement otherwise. By establishing the physical experience of being met and not ignored with Jay’s mother, and then demonstrating moving Jay’s pelvis only as much as was comfortable for him, I was training both Jay and his mother to be able to share a physical experience of joining physically themselves.