For the umpteenth time today, while I was with a client, I noted that the folks I work with who are on the autism spectrum are far from “removed” from their feelings.
One of the men I work with was, to my eyes anyway, clearly struggling with his feelings a great deal when he arrived at his session. For the record, he, as with most of the people I support as a music therapist, does not use speech to communicate.
Truly, the fact that he even came to his session was a big deal, because he has been in his, let’s say... apparently ambivalent? Yes, we’re experiencing his apparently ambivalent phase again. He seems to want to come for his session, then he gets stuck (as in, stops moving and seems to want me to pull or prod at him) at every door (hmm, that whole getting stuck at the door thing is an interesting symbol in and of itself, eh?).
Today, though, he agreed to put many of his beloved plastic objects into a clear plastic Ziploc bag I’d brought for him. (That way he can have his stuff- mostly blocks and little plastic items- with him but not need to tap them all on the pavement outside in the middle of the road. And he is still be able to see his objects, because the bag is clear.) He came out the door with me, and we got to the Music Room alive and well, in spite of a few unexpected lurches forward as we walked.
He immediately went to get the mallets so he could whack the xylophone and to whack at the piano with them. He did this while I was trying to get my guitar strap over my shoulder and organize myself to play with him. Too late. By the time I got it together he was pretty much done with the playing, and he’d hidden the mallets (and a tambourine he found on the piano) in the other music therapist’s cart.
As I watched him roam around the room (he doesn’t generally sit with me), I realized how hard of a time he was having with his feelings and trying to cope with them. I had such a strong sense that he was doing everything in his power to be in that room with me, because it was important to him- even though it was also very difficult.
I commented on this to him- this supposed disconnection from feelings that autistic people are “supposed” to have and how it seems as if the opposite is actually true- particularly in this moment we were sharing.
I told him a friend of mine, who is also autistic, has expressed envy of me on more than one occasion with regard to my seeming ability to “take it all in” (“it” being life and all the emotions which accompany life) and not seem phased by it (versus needing to take a long break from people just to process it all).
His facial expression didn’t change much, but he did move to stand in the music-making area (where I was sitting) instead of hovering around in the office area. The song that came to my mind was “Think in Colors”- a song I wrote. I actually wrote it, because of a deep caring I was feeling for the folks I work with, but, for the first time, I wondered if it could be sung from my clients’ perspective instead.
I didn’t sing it immediately, because I wasn’t sure it was time or if it was the right song. When I did decide it was time and I played it, he came and stood in front of the chair I always put next to me, hoping that someday he’ll come and sit there. As I played, I managed to reach over and move his bag of objects (which I’d put there when we arrived and which he’d ignored since we left his cottage) to the floor in case he wanted to sit.
And he sat with me until I finished playing the song.