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AUTISM AND TAI-CHI

Several of my students over the years have worked with autistic children and have had great success in applying Tai-chi and Zookinesis principles.  Our discussions of their experiences have led me to an understanding of autism that I believe can benefit everybody.  I view autism and the so called “normal” state as two extremes of human consciousness. 

To understand this it is important to understand the dynamics of our attention (our consciousness) according to Tai-chi principles.  There are two types of attention – yin and yang.  And there is a biological energy called “chi” that energizes all living things.  You can think of chi as a glass of water.  You can swirl the water with a spoon but you cannot really see the water move.  Think of yang attention as a small jar of ink.  The jar restricts the ink to a certain shape.  If you hold the jar in the water you still cannot see the movement of the water. 

Yin attention is attention that is released.  If you pour the little jar of ink into the swirling water you will see the ink swirled about by the swirling water.  By inference you can see how the water moves.  When you allow beautiful music to “move you”, your attention is yin.  When you are reading a book you concentrate your attention from word to word.  That is yang (controlled and directed) attention.

Most of us are in the yang attention mode almost all the time.  We can move our attention around and manipulate it.  We can be clever with concepts.  But we don’t really feel as much as we could because our attention doesn’t seep into the world around us and make the energy (chi) in our world visible to us.

I believe the autistic child’s attention is almost all yin.  His behavior is controlled by his connection to the world around him and to the experiences of his body but he has trouble focusing his attention to a specific goal.  When you focus your attention you cut off its yin quality because you are containing and manipulating it rather than letting it go to flow as it pleases.  This flowing yin quality is very fulfilling but doesn’t allow you to be goal oriented. 

The predominate approach to dealing with autistic children who are at one extreme of the quality of attention is to force them into the opposite extreme which we are most comfortable with.  My students take a different approach.  They have spent many years learning how to blend yin and yang attention in balance so they can feel and be aware and yet can direct their activities.  So they are not at the extremes of the qualities of attention anymore but are somewhere in the middle.  They “meet” the child from this centered, balanced quality of attention and in a non-verbal way, ask the child to meet them there.  By understanding the situation of the child’s attention, they can participate in that quality to begin with and then gradually move him towards the center.

The students tell me that sometimes parents of an autistic child have gone through three or four counselors over several years but with no success.  The Tai-chi trained counselor can meet the child and have a great deal of success even the first day.  When the parents ask how the counselor how he could effect such a change in such a short time, my students cannot really explain themselves because the parents don’t understand Tai-chi principles.  The students themselves understand the process very well but their methodology is not the “accepted” methodology so they have to just say nothing.

By understanding the extremes of the qualities of attention it is easier to understand the middle.  Both yin and yang attention are important and need to be blended in the right proportions.  Tai-chi and Zookinesis training is based on that principle.