During the last few months, the LIFESMART message is clarifying and organizing around the twin themes of managing stress and engagement in learning. This sharpening of our message has happened both due to the challenges we faced last year and through the solutions that seem to be emerging today.
Thanks to Dhrov Tikoo for the beautiful creative representation for the theme of this post. Movement and dance is one of the key tools for balancing stress management and engagement! We don’t have to lower expectations to manage stress. We can find ways to challenge neurodivergent ways without triggering the stress response!
Invisible Problems, Unexpected Solutions
Stress management is one of the most important issues in the invisible problems, unexpected solutions category. It was not talked about when Ananth was growing up. Even today, I see few people talking about the enormous amounts of stress parents and their neurodivergent children face daily.
We have been more fortunate than most people. Within a few months of starting public school, we knew it was not a good fit for Ananth. Our journey to homeschooling began. While we had not heard of this term, Ananth has been fortunate to learn in a low-arousal environment for much of his life. We lived in city where there were walking paths not only within the community but all through the city. Two daily walks has been a part of our lives for a long time. Daily lessons on the walk has been a mode of learning we have used for two decades. We also followed a movement-rich, arts integrated, and storytelling focus curriculum (Enki approach based on Waldorf). Ananth also loved folding with Wholemovement (www.wholemovement.com). Later, he told me that this was a peaceful and relaxing activity. Because of our Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) experience, we also did many activities together around the house and in the neighborhood.
So the solution was there for us before we even knew of the problem! We had a healthy daily routine that reduced stress and increased learning.
Managing Parent Stress
One important stress management tool for me was conversations. My neighbor homeschooled four children. She is very knowledgeable. I would go to her home several times a week. She would give me suggestions and resources. Now, there is a lot of information. The amount of information flowing through social media is overwhelming. I wonder how parents navigate this information and do anything!
Conversations are rooted in a knowledge of people and situations. My neighbor would give me specific suggestions based on where we were at that time. This is one reason that I am moving towards weekly workshops as a place where we gather and talk. I have been exploring this possibility for some time but LIFESMART development has reached a point where this is possible only now.
The divided circle (based on Ananth’s Wholemovement) has two sides – stress management and engagement. It has been formed into a tetrahedron with additional folds.
Balanced attention to stress management and engagement results in sustained progress.
Playing Chutes and Ladders
While we were fortunate to discover many stress management solutions without being aware of the problem, we were not always that lucky. After much progress through RDI, Ananth wanted to try a school. We chose a small Waldorf school thinking that Waldorf approach and school size would make it a good environment for him. Unfortunately, it did not work out and Ananth ended up in a highly stressed place. It took us a couple of years to get back on track.
In the meantime, we discovered MNRI (Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration) and Bharatanatyam. Again, we did not realize this at the time but now we had made another important transition. In addition to designing the environment and experiences for low stress, MNRI and dance had started developing Ananth’s own capacity for stress management and engagement. We continued on this path making steady progress until COVID times.
COVID lockdowns, uncertainty, sudden and unexpected changes slowly brought stress back. Other factors added to the stress. We had our second major movement down a big chute. But while this experience was difficult, it was different from our earlier experience. We had a whole set of tools and practices for managing stress. After 10 years of Bharatanatyam, Ananth was also better equipped to deal with it.
Theater Arts for Holistic Development: The Ramana Way
Again, a solution came when we were least expecting it. Since we knew that we would have to spend some time in Bengaluru each year to be with my mother, I was excited when Shri Ujwal Jagadeesh from the Ramana Maharshi Center for Learning (RMCL) taught a class for us in our Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) course. I asked Dr. Ambika Kameshwar whether Ananth could learn from him when we were in Bengaluru. Ujwal’s integration of Ramana Maharshi’s teachings, TAHD, and Bharatanatyam is opening doors to stress management that we did not know existed.
Ananth says these experiences are quietening his mind. He calls these experiences a vaccination against stress! It has only been a few months and we will know more over time.
Is it possible for autistic children and adults to practice emotional regulation and stress management and discover pathways to resilience?
I think the answer is that it is possible. But first we must recognize the debilitating effect of stress on parents and neurodivergent children. In my view, the rush to fix the child creates a lot more stress than we experienced when Ananth was young. My path is clear:
I want to help parents see that stress does not have to be a way of life. Neurodivergent children and their parents can have a peaceful life and slowly work towards development. Development is a lifelong process. Neurodivergent children may not be able to follow the traditional path but we can allow them to develop and flourish in their own way.
The first step is for parents to learn to manage their stress. Seek the right conversations. People who will help you find your way forward slowly. Parents need mindful conversations that show them the way and not more and more information. I have been struggling with the blog for this reason. Should I be adding to the information overload? I am now seeing a way to align my blog with conversations I am having with parents. My blog will be a place to harvest and synthesize learnings from conversations that I can feed into future conversations!