The Aikido Approach with Children with Autism

Recently I had the privilege of working with some teenagers, who incidentally also have autism. Something really interesting struck me about my work with them, which I think applies to all children and teenagers. Children with ASD tend to get very focused particularly in their special interest areas. Sometimes as adults, it isn’t particularly convenient when they do get fixated and sometimes it can be inappropriate too. At these times, we tend to try to pull them away from their desired interest and coax them to what we want them to do. I noticed myself doing this with a child recently because I had content I wanted to cover with her. I stopped and observed myself, and noticed at that moment I was actually disrespecting the fact that she had found something wonderful in her world. She was totally immersed in it, and my ‘professional’ brain was saying ‘no we need to do this’.


It was in that moment of mindful awareness that I was able to see another option of working with this girl and it was to bring what I consider an aikido approach to the work. Instead of resisting her desire to explore her interest, I decided not to resist and brought an attitude of curiosity to what she had discovered. This can be something that is particularly difficult to do if you have heard the association several times, but by bringing a beginners mind to the experience meant that I could see with fresh eyes untainted by previous expectations. I listened and was genuinely interested in the associations she had discovered. I respected her desire to share her world with me. I stopped trying to pull her into my agenda and let her lead me with hers.


This was where the magic happened, within moments she let her special interest drop and wanted to move on to what I had planned for us to do. I sat there dumbfounded at the simplicity of it, and almost laughed at my realisation of the need to relearn in various contexts that truly being present with someone with total acceptance for what is, is quite simply the greatest gift you can give. This gift can be given to any child, the gift of purity of attention, acceptance for her as she is, curiosity and interest. It is within these moments that treasured opportunities arise that will take you both beyond where you thought possible. Incidentally on her evaluation form, when asked what benefit the programme had for her, she said ‘it helped me control myself’.  


As Eckhart Tolle says 'whatever you fight, you strengthen and what you resist, persists'. Try a non-resisting approach the next time you find yourself in a situation where the other person wants to go the opposite way to you - you may just find that it works.