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The Shocking Truth About Crying: Autism and “Out of the Cave,” Moments

image photo : Caves-4

The shocking truth about crying is that sometimes it is a spring board towards growth. Upon bringing a non-verbal  child to his father at the conclusion of his session, the father asked me “What happened, why is he crying?”

Unfortunately, when children are non-verbal we don’t always know they are crying. However, as I have said in previous blogs, all behavior communicates something. At the very least, crying communicates some sort of discomfort. Sometimes in therapy this is not always a bad thing. Crying may actually be the beginning of some kind of growth. I usually compare this to being trapped in a dark cave for a long time and suddenly being let out into the sunlight.  Coming into the sunlight is certainly more healthy however can initially be overwhelming, scary, or at the very least, uncomfortable. Now most of the time in therapy change does not happen   “all of the sudden, out of no-where”. But even change we know is coming can feel that way when it happens.

As I later spoke to the father, I did not know exactly what this boy was crying about. I said to the father I did not pay too much attention to the crying, I did not feel alarmed by it. There have been times when I did feel alarmed by his crying and ended  the session feeling that there was some kind of pain, discomfort that was not related to the therapy that seemed to prevent any therapeutic interventions as being helpful. But this time, his crying did not alarm me. My best guess or conclusion was that possibly there had been that cave type of discomfort. I did not really even think about this much until the father posed this question to me. This non-verbal, autistic seven year old had previously been in a small group session. Soon after that session ended we went into his individual session.  I purposefully slowed the previous sessions vibrant, up-beat music. This boy had been very happy and energetic but with the continuing energy was becoming unregulated and unsafe in his movements. I had felt the need to slow the music to help this boy slow his actions for safety sake. He did some very positive, organizing things in that session that I had never seen him do before. As the music slowed he had also gone from very happy to swaying between quiet on and off crying and also slowed his actions down.

I believe I had accomplished what I had set out to do, to help this boy slow and regulate his actions himself ( I never left the piano nor ever used any kind of hand over hand assistance.) Ultimately, this did help the boy to organize, however reflecting on this, it may have likely been an “out of the cave” moment or discomfort. I did not set out to sadden him, however the move from feeling happy, energetic,, unrestricted and full of life to a calmer, more focused regulated way of being may have felt disappointing, shocking , uncomfortable or possibly just undesirable at the moment. As undesirable as this may have felt initially, this boy then proceeded to demonstrate actions that were more organized, sustained and co-responsive than I had ever seen from him before.

Sometimes an “out of the cave” moment can be followed by some regressive behaviors for a short period of time. A better term would be a reprieve or retreat to a more familiar, safe known way of being.  Sometimes it may be followed by a period of processing, in which you do not see much action for a period of time. You or I might say , if it were us, “Let me just take a moment to understand what just happened.” At these moments if you pay close attention to their face or posture, you can see they are not lost in their own little world, they simply are just not doing much. And other times, as was this case, they just move on from the “cave” moment.

The next session proved me right. There was no crying, but slower, much more purposeful actions. He was using gestures showing me what he wanted. This boy’s actions this tine were conscious efforts to understand how to get to point B, where we have been heading. This non verbal boy repeatedly handed me the microphone, watching my mouth as I said the predictable word in the song “me.”

Although growth is healthy, it is not always comfortable, nor does it always happen in a way we might choose. The way we would choose is  usually more a path toward the familiar.  A principle of a school  I was once in, undergoing big changes would repeatedly tell us “Change is inevitable, Growth is optional.” I personally live this quote and think of it every time big change is headed my way, change I can not control.





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