I’ve been practicing the Attitude That Works for years now. This is the attitude that I practice in gymnastics, in social dance, and throughout my life. I am by no means perfect – far from it – but having the idea of an attitude that is effective has been very useful for me even outside of working with autism.
As does the Autism Treatment Center of America I will start with loving. Their phrase “love first, act second” to me suggests acting after considering the possible repercussions of the action. It means that when we act from a place of compassion for everyone involved (ourselves included) we are much more effective. This is especially true in working with children with autism. Without many of the social standards and justifications that we take for granted these neuro atypical individuals rely on their sense of those around them – their intuitive feel for the attitudes held by those around them – instead of just the social niceties. I love this because it is such an amazing, useful training to practice being in The Attitude That Works. I was working with a young boy just this morning and he kept adjusting his penis through his pants. My initial reaction was that that behavior isn’t socially polite – that what he was doing was bad! I immediately saw myself judging his behavior is bad (in other words not loving him in that moment) and stopped. I don’t know why he was adjusting himself and at some point I might teach him that adjusting himself is something that most people in the world will expect he not do in public. Great! But none of that is any reason to love him less, even for a moment.
When I left the lesson with the little boy this morning I came home and took a nap. Being present with a high-intensity child doing the work that I do is tiring! It has gotten easier for me over time. In the early days I could not give more than one or two lessons in an entire day. I think that the reason I find it tiring to give lessons to children is because I am absolutely present with them – with the little boy this morning – nonstop! I think of presence as a flow state (which is what it’s called in aikido. To be in the flow). I do this in gymnastics: I do not do a round-off back flip on the tumble track without first pausing to collect myself mentally and prepare myself for the upcoming physical feat. I also do this for many many hours at a time on the social dance floor. I can comfortably dance for four hours at a stretch without stopping. To practice being present I suggest finding something that you love to do and do well. Don’t start where it’s most difficult, start where it is the most easy. Notice what you do to enter that state of ease and timelessness, whether that be for a moment or for hours. Then begin to bring that same attitude of presence back to working with your child.
Nonjudgmental is my favorite And my nemesis. I am very versed at judging myself and judging others. Though I was raised in a loving family I have been well trained at judging from an early age. I think most of us have been. For me being nonjudgmental has become a practice just like any other (meditation, gymnastics, social dance). As I did with a little boy this morning I often still judge. I remember a time very shortly after I started working with autism. I entered the PlayRoom of a little girl I was seeing and she promptly pulled down her pants. My immediate internal reaction was “Oh shit!” Perhaps I had done something wrong? Perhaps she had done something wrong? But clearly something bad was happening! I did not get over my discomfort then nearly as quickly as I did this morning. I completed the 30 minutes I was scheduled to be with her, left the room and discussed the situation with her mother. We realized there was actually nothing wrong with her behavior and with this new-found acceptance was much more effective for discussing with the girl aspects of why people do generally not pulled their pants down in public. Not judging a child with autism for their behavior I find relatively straightforward. I do occasionally still judge and then quickly let that judgment go. My new practice is not judging myself! How, if I can be so loving, present, and nonjudgmental with a child in my simultaneously able to be very judgmental of myself? I’m a work in progress I’m practicing and look for more on being nonjudgmental with oneself coming soon!
In the meantime, we’ve looked at loving a child with autism, being present with the child with autism, and being non-judgmental of a child with autism – three components that I call The Attitude That Works.