Posted by: Marie | October 20, 2009

(168) A step into the world of autism

Post #168
[Private journal entry written on Monday, June 29, 2009]

Well, today was a very interesting day in the “piano lessons” part of my life. My 6-year-old autistic student’s lesson had to be rescheduled from last Saturday to today (Wednesday) because of his schedule and my upcoming vacation. It was a variation from routine that really threw him for a loop. He was screaming, growling, kicking and hitting during the entire lesson. It was rough for both of us.

The Mountain View by Martin Chen

The Mountain View by Martin Chen

His mom finally stepped in to help – she is very good about staying back, but I really needed her help today.

Normally, this little guy (let’s call him, Matt, shall we?) is happy and affectionate. I sit at the piano (on the piano bench) and he stands between the piano and me, or sits on the front edge of the piano bench, between my knees. I use this positioning because it is the positioning his mom uses at their house – it works well and he is used to it.

In that position, he often leans back into me, or turns around partway to pat my face or hug me tightly. The whole deal of maintaining that close of contact with him has been a bit strange for me.

As I’m getting older, I’m starting to enjoy being around kids more – but I’m still not used to being in that close of contact with kids. I’ve never had that kind of contact with anyone – not as a kid with other kids or with adults – not as an adult with kids or other adults. It just has not been part of my life.

However, I know that it is part of his life, and I know his mom is right there, a few feet away – and I know that she would quickly say something if I crossed some line into inappropriateness – I would never do that knowingly, but I am concerned that I might do it out of ignorance. Against that backdrop, I’m willing to use that positioning since it is what works best with him. It is just a bit uncomfortable for me – do-able, but uncomfortable.

Last week, I mentioned to his mom, in a moment of female bonding, that I had been sexually abused – and that I worry I might somehow damage or “contaminate” kids out of ignorance. I am sure she must have a clue that touch is an issue for me – the way she subsequently approached me for a hug, and the way she maneuvered her body during the hug indicated that she is aware of how to deal with people like me.

So, I know that she knows that piece of my history, and she probably has thought about how my history impacts the manner in which I relate to Matt.

Anyway – today, as Matt was acting out, she explained (over top the screaming) that he is not allowed to manipulate the agenda of the lesson by acting out. She explained that we would just have to support him as he figured out how to set aside his frustration and finish the lesson. She took over the lesson for a few minutes (with my blessing, let me assure you, LOL).

For every little step of the exercise he performed accurately, she gave him very enthusiastic verbal praise as well as very firm hugs and mini-massages on his shoulders and scalp. She explained that, because tactile touch is often dampened for him, he needs firmer touch – and that massaging his scalp actually releases a “feel-good” chemical into his brain. (I’ll have to admit, he seemed to relish her touch.) She encouraged me to use the same techniques, especially when he was starting to act out.

When she said that last part, I’m sure I had a look of horror and shock on my face. I was thinking, “Um, not in this lifetime, honey!”

The biggest reason I am able to have close contact with him at all is because I am always passive during that contact. I just sit there, and if there is contact, it is because he is touching me. I never reach out to touch him except to lead him by the hand back to the piano when he gets distracted by something across the room.

If you remember from an earlier post, I feel paralyzed when it comes to physical touch . . . I am not able to initiate touch with adults, only to passively accept it. I realized today that it is no different for me with kids.

So, today, she encouraged me to initiate what looked to me to be invasive physical contact with her son. Again, in his experience, it is common and positive. But, in my experience, it scares the shit out of me. As I sit here tonight, I can’t imagine ever being comfortable touching him like that.

But I want to be able to touch him – kids – people. I want it to be okay. I want to learn how to do that. It would be a huge step in my healing.

We’ll see – maybe someday. I guess this little boy isn’t the only one who is learning something – it seems to be turning into a two-way street – and I’m not sure which of us is learning more.


Oh, and . . . . . I got a call from a man this weekend about piano lessons – his 10-year-old son has Asperger’s syndrome (a milder form of autism). He wanted to know if I had any experience with children with similar diagnoses. I told him about my work with Matt. He was tickled with that news and wanted to meet with me.

So, today, the dad and the son and I sat down to talk about piano lessons. We hit it off immediately. So, they are coming back tomorrow for his first lesson with me.

He started lessons a year ago. His first teacher did not know how to teach him effectively and, without warning, just dropped him – that was traumatic for him. Then, he had just gotten started with a second teacher a few months ago and she suddenly had to move away. So, his dad was very careful in selecting me – I feel honored that he trusts me!

I am discovering that I really enjoy teaching people with special challenges. I gave a few lessons to a lady in her late-70’s who was recovering from a stroke. Her physical coordination and her ability to retain new information was compromised – so the lessons were quite interesting for both of us. I really enjoyed working with her.

I seem to be attracting people who need special attention – and I really enjoy working with them. Maybe there is something to this . . .

Quotes 080


  1. What a great challenge for you! And what a perfect opportunity to begin to try and learn how safe touch can be? Not only because Matt is a special needs kid, but because his mum is understanding and supportive.

    I hope you find a way. I’m sure it would be huge!!

    And congrats on being ‘found’ for your second special needs assignment. It doesn’t surprise me you’d enjoy teaching these kids.

    After all, trauma causes us to become special needs people, too.

    • Hi, Svasti –

      I feel the same way . . . that this little boy is providing a great opportunity for healing for me . . . I am grateful!

      I had never thought about how trauma causes us to become special needs people, too . . . but, I would have to agree! That gives me a whole new perspective — and, makes it easier for me to behave compassionately towards myself.

      Thank you!
      – Marie

  2. Oh, you are wonderful. you may not be able to touch someone physically, but you are touching their hearts and their lives and giving them something they will never, never forget.

    Many hugs…

    • Hi, Ivory –

      Wow! Your words bring tears to my eyes! Thank you for your warm thoughts!

      I appreciate your continued input to the blog!

      – Marie

  3. Never, never underestimate the life-giving importance of the work you are doing with people who yearn for music and need special patience. In my opinion, you are ministering to those in need in ways that are extraordinarily profound.

    • Hi, David –

      Thank you so much for your kind words . . . I feel humbly honored.

      The value is a two way street — I need to be needed by them — they are giving my life purpose. And, their spirits are so unassuming . . . it is a joy to interact with them.

      Thank you, again . . .
      – Marie

  4. My most heartfelt sympathy to you being faced with this. Children- particularly ones with autism- are an incredible way to relearn boundaries for those of us who have suffered abuse. One of my dance students was a boy (a young teen) much like your piano student. After teaching him for a year, I was finally comfortable enough to teach him without his mom present in the room. It takes time and patience with ourselves.

    I understand your inability and difficulty to give physical affection. While I have yet to touch on what happened to me as a child and young adult in my own blog, I have a similar reluctance to being close to even my husband. I am beyond lucky to have found someone warm and gentle enough to be loving and understanding about this… even though I know it’s hard for him.

    It’s a never-ending battle, but all we can do is keep fighting it.

    • Hi, Tamra –

      It is good to hear from you . . . and, thank you for alluding to your history of abuse. I appreciate that you shared that with us — and that you shared how it is affecting you currently.

      I, too, am sorry that the pain is in your life. However, I am glad for the gifts that come as a result of the healing — there are gifts, you know — really cool ones, in fact. Like . . . your sensitivity in spirit you provided when working with your dance student. I’m sure he really needed that, and you were able to provide it.

      – Marie

  5. Hi Marie,

    Music is healing. Having a gentle and caring teacher is healing. Good for you. Good and healing thoughts to you and your students.


    • Hi, Kate –

      Thank you for your kind words . . . I appreciate how you always have the best wishes and blessings in your comments! Thank you!

      – Marie

  6. Hi Marie,

    I wonder if you meant your title to be ambiguous – a glimpse into your own and the child’s world.

    It seems wonderful that you can get used to your need for touch in such a healing and supportive environment, and one where it is giving as well as receiving.

  7. Hey, Evan –

    Um, nope . . . I wasn’t being that creative with my title, LOL. But, it sure could be taken that way!

    It is definately a new way of thinking for me to think of children as givers of affectionate touch — but, it is natural for them . . .

    Thanks for your perspective!

    – Marie

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