Breaking Barriers

Perspectives from the trenches of the special needs world

Making room for NOTHING

Life doesnt end if you stop to "take a break"

Most of the students we work with have had whats called a "reinforcement profile" made to see what snacks, books, activities, and movement based games they really like, these preferences are often used to entice them either in a work - reward system or in a relationship based model to pair and care about the therapist/caregiver trying to build a dynamic. Often times we make visual schedules and first/then boards stating, as one example, first work then "take a break". What is the value of that breaktime? For our students it often is a reprieve from coping with sensory stimulus that can be overwhelming, working on new skills, or intensely trying to find a way to be understood and communicate with individuals trying so hard to teach them they forget how to just be with them, respect them, and join them in activities or stillness. Time and time again, I am shocked when our students are told their choice to "do nothing" isnt good enough and are given toys to play with (despite their disinterest) songs and videos they were presumed to like when they were kids (even though they now may be 25 years old!) and a constant demand to be doing something....

I think this comes from fear. Parents of kids with Autism especially are being second guessed all of the time, their kids over therapized, and the whole family (siblings included) given truly unrealistic expectations to be "on" all of the time. The truth is, no one can be their best all of the time. We need to stop at the gas station and refuel. To do this, we must turn the car off so as to avoid an explosion.  Simply being daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, spouses, partners, artists, colleagues, etc can take the wind out of us most days, so why not stop every once in a while to be still, clear our minds, and settle? 

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So many people recently are turning again to yoga and meditation; why? Our culture has become so fast paced, so tech based, and so time focused that most people feel like failures if they are only multitasking 3 - 4 things at once. How many of you find yourselves itching to check your phone, email, twitter, facebook, etc even while having a good time with someone in person? Don"t worry, Im no hypocrite, my hand is up in the air right with you! But why? Ego, judgement, stress, are just a few of the monsters under the bed here. You know, I am not a slim woman nor the most fit, however I can dance and move pretty well. I decided to open myself to yoga as meditation was great for my mind but my body needed a good zetz. I was pleased with my modified tree poses and embracing of warrior and sun salutations... there was(and still is) one archenemy - the corpse pose. For all the nimble necessities of stretching and manuevering of self and space, I couldn't lay open and still without feeling like I was being swallowed up. My heart raced, my palms were sweating and twitching, and I just wanted to get up and into another movement as soon as possible.

                                   

We have become so accustomed to a need for input that we go deeper than the ponds we swim in. We must know that it is ok to have moments where we are not producing but we are in fact letting all our knowledge and emotions and observations to settle within, we are brain and body calming, and we are feeling and simply existing. Our students, our families, and our Selves have so much power in our very being that the world is always reacting to us. Prioritize some "nothingness" and see how rejuvenated you feel. Trust me, there will plenty of stuff to do when the alarm clock goes off and you plug back in!

Amanda Friedman, MSEd, SBL, is the Director and Co-Owner of the Emerge & See Education Center in New York City.

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