dancing with Jacob



P1010081Two of today’s dances with my autistic godson Jacob.  Photos by Derrill Bazzy.

I am sharing some of my notes from working with Jacob today.  My hope is that they can be helpful to other parents of autistic children.  You can translate this information to your child or adolescent.  Please feel free to write with questions.

HOLDING YOUR OWN THREAD:  What is really important is that all of us who spend time with Jacob are “holding the thread” of our own experience when we are with him. What this means is that we stay connected to ourselves inwardly. This may mean our breath, but mostly it means our own CURIOSITY AND ENGAGEMENT with whatever we are doing. When I am with Jacob, I try not to be thinking about what I am doing, which puts me outside of the experience. Instead, I focus on sensing and feeling Jacob and myself. BEING IN THE MOMENT.

That engagement with yourself has to be AUTHENTIC. Jacob is extremely attuned to you whether it looks like it or not. He knows when you are not authentically engaged with yourself or with him. BREATHE. HAVE SOME FUN.

DANCING NOT TRACKING (BE ALIVE IN YOUR BODY):  I find it helpful to think of what Jacob and I are doing is dancing together. This is especially true when we are outside, because of all the available spatial relationships: up/down, near/far, postural (like running, climbing, ball throwing, swinging) or gestural (mudras, touch, ball spinning etc).

The dancing part is that I suggest improvising spatially with Jacob. What this means is that I don’t “track” him or just follow him around. When we are doing that, generally we have lost our own “thread.” We are just following. Create your own pattern while maintaining a felt sense of connection and movement relationship with him. Be creative. If he is walking in a straight line toward the swing, you can walk in a curvilinear pattern toward the play structure and then loop over toward him and away. That awakens you in your body and engages Jacob’s curiosity. The more juicy, playful and engaged (AUTHENTICALLY) that you are the more likely it is that Jacob will enter a delicious conversation with you. BE ALIVE IN YOUR OWN BODY.

Jacob and Paula

Photo: Superhero at rest!

Photo: Jo-Ann Eccher

I am on Martha’s Vineyard this week visiting Jacob, my autistic godson, and his wonderful parents, Jo-Ann and Derrill.  I have not seen them since April.  I am as interested in what has changed in me as what has changed in Jacob.  He is taller, I am not.

Perhaps it is the Body-Mind Centering dvd’s that I have been watching – soaking in and relishing Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s brilliance and insight.  Or maybe that it is the ragged end of summer, and I am so happily relaxed to be on the island – walking down to the sea at least once a day.  Maybe it is some fuller acceptance of the limits of my understanding (at least the cerebral cortex variety) or some deeper relaxation around my role in Jacob’s life.

I have let go of a lot of doing, let go of any kind of outer directed goal.  I am doing a lot of listening and more than that, a lot of feeling.  Here is what I am finding this time:  when I hold the thread of my own engagement and curiosity, my time with Jacob has an ease and flow that I have never experienced before.  When I am more outer directed – that is, looking to do something, fix, change or improve something, things can get sticky.

Jacob’s predominant autism “ism” is his spinning of a ball.  Sometimes it is close to his mouth – a tiny spinning involving the third and fourth fingers  of his right hand- complex, fast, rhythmic.  Sometimes it is tossing the ball in the air repeatedly.  Taking a page from the brilliant work of Phoebe Caldwell, I have my own ball, and when we are together, I play with my own ball – sometimes directly echoing and duplicating his rhythms, dynamics, sometimes introducing some other movement of rhythm that catches my attention.  What I am doing mostly is enjoying myself being with him, engaging in my own play.  Sometimes that “with-ness” is direct, other times, more indirect – maybe we are facing roughly the same direction, sometimes side by side, sometimes farther apart, echoing each other’s sounds, movements, balls.

In one of Bonnie’s dvd’s on the fluid system, while talking about the fluid structure (marrow) of the bone, she mentioned finding and returning to one’s own “drone.”  In music there’s the rhythm, the melody and the drone, like the harmonium in Indian music.  The drone is your own balance, your own connection to the deepest sense of yourself, the core of your being.

I think that is what I am finding this time with Jacob.  Instead of becoming unbalanced, which could look like distraction, frustration, confusion or uncertainty, I am feeling balanced and happy, as if the core of me connects to the center of the earth and to the galaxies above.  And I am finding Jacob there, in his drone, his center, his clarity about who he is and what he needs.  Not in language, or touch, but in delight, curiosity and the moment.

be kind (a gift from The Writer’s Almanac)


Be Kind

by Michael Blumenthal

Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind— but
because it’s good for the soul, and,
what’s more, for others; it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet wander
into a bush before our very houses,
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there’s
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one, so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with minute particulars?
Dust’s certainly all our fate, so why not
make it the happiest possible dust,
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked
witches of our childhood have died and,
from where they are buried, a great kindness
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course,
in the end so much comes down to privilege
and its various penumbras, but too much
of our unruly animus has already been
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

“Be Kind” by Michael Blumenthal, from No Hurry. © Etruscan Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)