Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
Apart from the diagnostic descriptors that mark them as Autistic they are all different.
As they say “If you know one person who has autism, you know one person who has autism.”
It doesn't stop you though, as a parent, from scouring the Internet and books or probing the dusty corners and the occult areas of academia for solutions.
It was on one such search recently that I stumbled across a fascinating man, his Autistic son and an oddball form of Ultra Running. The man is Hal Walter the seven time world champion at the sport of pack Burro racing, a sport unique to the American state of Colorado. This form of Ultra Running is undertaken whilst tethered to a fully laden Donkey. Hal has written several books about the parallels of working with a strong willed and independent animal and having an Autistic child. He deals with his autistic son with warmth, consistency, love and undying perseverance. He is a man filled with empathy and compassion and he has a huge streak of honesty too. I'd love to meet him.
Our kids are fantastic. There is the stereotyped myth of emotionless robots lacking empathy or imagination and it's true those things are often present. There also exists the other side, a sometimes wacky view of life, moments of spontaneous love and a genuine sense of humour. I was speaking to a colleague recently about a pupil. She said that he had copied another pupils literacy work word for word and when she gently suggested that it may be a form of stealing he replied that it wasn't stealing and he was just being a Magpie! Great humour and an alternative view that made perfect sense to him. They are all interesting these kids, they are my passion and I love working with them.
After reading about Hal and buying his book Endurance in which he details his son's cross country running I began to dig a little deeper. I have become interested in the impact of nature on the autistic mind. I am reading Coleridge's poem, frost at Midnight where he worries that his child will grow up as he did,
- "For I was reared
- In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim..."
Coleridge wishes his child to be able to grow up experiencing nature instead. He wants him to be more balanced and imaginative. I think Coleridge got it right. When I run through the trees I feel a real connection with nature. I feel more grounded and at peace with myself. My senses are engaged and my stresses diminish. Life is simple and beautiful.
"Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the night-thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw..."
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that animals have a positive impact too. Hal's wife Mary has an interesting thought on why: "We base our decisions on logic. Theirs are based on sensory perception"
I like this, it makes sense, I think animals have great instincts, they are non judgemental and consistent. They make few demands. They love without question. The evidence suggests that animals can help diminish social stress in kids with autism, they can help develop social skills. I think they are mostly just simple and uncomplicated to an autistic kid and perhaps they inhabit similar worlds.
I'm not going to take up running with a Burro but I am going to look for a dog. I had some great dogs growing up, they did my soul good and I miss having one. I think it's time.