Sometimes when kids have had an “out of the cave” moment, they need to go back to something familiar, to feel safe, know where they are in life before moving on. Sometimes we become agitated or concerned (as parents, teachers or therapists) that a child is regressing, however we all do that sort of thing and it is OK.
Before any growth can occur, a child first and foremost needs to feel safe. Even new college freshmen often go back to high school for the first break or homecoming game to see old friends, old teachers. Rarely do you see them again in that school after the (college) freshmen year. They are then completely ready to keep moving on and they do.
Some people some autistic children drop back for only moments,some a little longer. It all depends on the individual. How startling “out of the cave moments,” children usually find their way back fairly quickly. Then there are those kids or situations where it feels like the safety net is where it all ends. There are always those kids that are, for the most part, compliant. They don’t ruffle our feathers, nor their own.Their sessions or their work may make us feel like, “is this it, is this as far as it goes?” or it may give us a feeling of monotony, or aimlessness. These kids often need a gentle nudge. What is this all about? The need to keep things safe, controlled and predictable, thus the need for a GENTLE nudge. How do we move them gently?
The therapist parent or teacher then needs to begin with the old, the familiar and gently, quietly, put in the new in an almost unnoticeable way. This paves a new, smooth, safe path for a fearful child to take.
For example, I have many children at one agency that I work with that by Christmas time were all ready for new goals, to move on. I wrote the new goals, over break, and was ready to go upon the start up of school. However all the children had a week long change in schedule and routine, they had Christmas vacation. While at home, they saw people they do not usually see, went places they do not usually go and ate at times varying from the usual routine. Then they came back to school. Criers were crying again, tantrums were raging, no more Mom and Dad but back to 8:30 into class,hand up coats,8;45 circle time and so on. Then they were taken out of the classroom in the middle of the week by a person they only see once a week. How much more unpredictability can they take?
All the children started out their sessions that week with the old familiar tunes or routine, no changes yet. Some were ready for slight movement, others were not.
There is a boy that comes every week and does amazing things in music therapy. But every week, as he enters the room (almost ready to go home) he tantrums. I play his music to his internal beat and sing gently what he is doing. Then every week we move onto Eric Carle’s Brown Bear book put to music. We spend about 20 of the 30 minutes doing old familiar things before moving onto growth. The new things that happen are quite often not things I would have foreseen coming but are beyond what he has been doing. He usually initiates this and if not I alter an existing structure or tune something slightly. We have tried diving in and he can accomplish his goals within the first couple of minutes, but the rest of the session is disconnected and chaotic. He leaves at those times in an abrupt and corrosive mood instead of a pleasant, focused one.
Some of the small groups did the exact same routine or tunes and got only a word , phrase, or action slightly tweaked in the entire session in order to get grounded so that we could move on.
When we see there is a u turn beginning with children, specifically autistic children, we often brace ourselves and say”Oh no, not this again, I thought we were done with this,” or “what is going on here?” We just need to step back, get some perspective and give them some room. After all, if you really think about it, when I watch children, typical or autistic, change can bring about very obvious undesirable behaviors. However the same thing often happens, or happens in a not so obvious a degree to all of us, but tends to last longer. We all need to feel safe before moving on. Often we need to step back and go someplace familiar to regain perspective, to feel solid on the ground before we can proceed to newer and better methods. Change brings about unpredictability, uncertainties and therefore discomfort. We want to stay organized and predictable in order to maintain. It is ok to step back a bit before moving on.