I recently read an article about the research that is being conducted to better understand the relationship between animals and individuals on the autistic spectrum. In this article, children between the ages of 5-13 where given pet guinea pigs to hold while in the presence of other adults. The findings were quite remarkable.
“They found that in the presence of animals, children with ASD demonstrated more social behaviors like talking, looking at faces and making physical contact. They were also more receptive to social advances from their peers in the presence of the animals than they were when playing with toys. The presence of animals also increased instances of smiling and laughing, and reduced frowning, whining and crying behaviors in children with ASD more than having toys did.” Although these are all skills that teachers, parents, therapists, etc. all strive to teach their students with ASD, it is not very likely that schools will start bringing animals into the hallways and classrooms. But I think we have to ask ourselves, “WHY are animals able to help these special children calm, centered, and organized in a way that allows them to be demonstrate more social behaviors which reflect connectedness and happiness?” It may seem silly, that we are looking at animals to teach us something about our own connection to these children, but before your ego gets in the way here (hey, aren’t I the one that teaches the animals what to do and didn’t I go to school, get advanced degrees to learn how to help children on the spectrum???), allow yourself to be truly present with what is happening between the child and the animal. It is easy to accept and acknowledge that animals provide unconditional love. They don’t ask us for anything. They don’t judge us for who we are, what we have, are success or failure. They are pure love. For children on the spectrum, there are ALWAYS demands placed on them by the parents and professionals that work with them. All of the demands have to do with how WE want them to look, behave, socialize and participate within our community. What a huge task. What pressure. From my extensive experience working with these children, they become guarded and stressed because of these demands (or should I say “goals”).
What if we took a lesson from these animals and dropped all of the expectations, lists of goals and objectives, future plans, hopes, dreams and desires. What if we acted like the animals and became really connected to the present moment and found joy in the “being.” Is it possible that we can have the same effect on these children as the animals? Would we be able to facilitate speech, eye contact and happiness by changing how we were around these children???? The answer is YES.
Try this little exercise the next time you are with a child on the spectrum:
1. Become really aware of your breath. You can place your hands on your belly if this helps you to “fall in” and slow down. When we engage in deep belly breathing, our nervous system calms down. This feeling of being relaxed and calm, can be felt by children with ASD.
2. Have a quiet conversation with yourself in your own mind. ” I am just here to BE with you. There are NO expectations. I just am happy to be here in your presence and whatever evolves, evolves. But I promise that I will be present enough to observe all the GOOD that is within you.
3. Remember, no judgement, no demands, just BE.
There is actually a lot of research and science that supports this heart centered approach. I teach a course called, “Yoga for Differently-Abled Children,” with http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0057010 Kaur Khalsa. In this training, we teach you how to hone your unconditional love, awareness and authentic self so that you can communicate with these amazing children on this level. We also provide therapeutic techniques to help their sensory systems regulate and their light to shine. You can find out more about this training on my web site www.zensationakids.com.
Here is the link to the research article : http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0057010