I am on Martha’s Vineyard working and playing with my autistic godson Jacob, who will celebrate his sixteenth birthday this month. I have known Jacob all of his life. In the first year of that life, when he was not crawling, I had the profound gift of working with Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who taught us ways of encouraging developmental patterns that were absent or fragmentary. And so began a journey of learning and transformation for all of us who love Jacob.
I have not seen him since last September. Jacob is non-verbal, and I felt (finally) that efforting for language was exactly wrong, and the I needed to go where he is, by communicating with him telepathically. Dropping into that consciousness, it was as if a flower that had been tightly budded opened fully and there he was! When I asked him what he needed, it was for us to listen carefully, to ask with our hearts and minds, and to let go of needing the words. Some of this was in images, some in short, clear phrases.
On the morning of the first day there was a lot of grabbing and pulling. I asked him to “use his mind” to tell me what he wanted. Over the next couple hours, things began shifting. It is clear that the habitual physical patterns – the muscle memory – are very deeply set – they anchor him in a way, and obstruct accessing new information or ways of being. It’s almost like when I first come out he is frantic to get whatever it is that he feels he needs. Or lay down the behavioral patterning like a grid for our interaction.
In the afternoon of this same day, there was a profound shift – lovely alternations of separation and connection. Dancing – literally – with balances, turns, shifts of direction, coming together, going apart. It is as if we sent in a psychic order and Jacob delivered! As we danced in the afternoon, his gaze shifted from being downwardly focused to opening out and coming to rest at eye level. A clear shift in awareness and presence. Full palm contact holding hands – a first. At one point when I was tying his shoe, he did this series of pats with his open hand – very gentle – all the way down my spine from upper back to hips!
As the week has gone on, our play has expanded, his tolerance has increased, as his patience, gentleness and understanding. I am using words, but I am also checking in with him non-verbally, letting him show me what might be next.
It is the first time n my long experience of him that Jacob has fully allowed touch. The absence of touch, his reactivity to being touched has been the most painful and frightening part of our relationship. So this is like sixteen years of Christmases and birthdays. Sharing contact with him, giving weight, taking his weight, holding hands, cradling arms, stroking his back – all held within the rhythms of walking together fills me with overwhelming appreciation.
Thank you thank you thank you.