Review: Autism: A Holistic Approach

Life works in mysterious ways. Life takes circles and weaves spirals  – it goes one direction and then doubles back on itself. This is how I am feeling these days as I contemplate the work that I do via Christopherus and as a Waldorf teacher and as I work with my homeschooled son.
To be more specific, I am amazed at the way I seem to have long episodes in my life when “children with challenges” come to the fore. Sometimes gently, sometimes more assertively, they call my attention to the fact that my heart’s work is involved with the healing of “children with challenges” and that their stories are the ones that speak the most deeply to me – and to which I feel humbly honored to be able to offer some assistance.
Who are these children? Who were those children who tried to burn down their apartments (flats) back in London when I first started on this journey? Who were those grown children – those adults with special needs – that I lived with in Camphill? Who was that special family who I lived with in another Camphill-inspired community? Who are these children whose parents phone me for consultations? These troubled or problematic teens at the high school where I teach? All children are special – but it is the stories of these children and the special challenges that they carry that speak most poignantly to me. And is it coincidence that both of my sons have displayed challenges (not severe, but enough to take note of) at different times of their lives?
Recently I have had a small flood of calls from parents with such children – a wake up call to me, for me to further clarify and hone the path of my work. One small attempt I made recently in this direction was to read the book,  Autism: A Holistic Approach by Bob Woodward and Marga Hogenbloom. I was flooded with fond memories of being in a Camphill Community when I read this as it is based on the therapeutic work that Bob Woodward participates in daily as he lives and works in such a community in England.
In recommending this book to homeschoolers I am taking a great risk – this book is about children at the far end of the spectrum of need in terms of challenges such as autism – the children who live in Camphill communities are not those who can live easily at home – though some, in time, might certainly be able to return to more independent lives. As such, this book is about the absolute importance of the therapeutic community. So a homeschooling parent who has a child with challenges but who wants – and can – keep him or her home might find herself dismayed or even disheartened by some of what this book says.
So I urge people to read this – as I think it is extremely valuable and has much to offer parents of children with a range of challenges within the autism/Asperger’s spectrum – but with caution. Take what is useful. Live into the case histories and the details of the therapies used and imagine how you could bring some of the elements used in Camphill to your child. Work with the anthroposopophical ideas around what autism is, how it effects the human being. And glory in the uplifting message of this book – that human beings come to the earth with a purpose and with karma – and that each of us works on our path in a different way. Autism then can be seen not so much as a problem to be fixed, but as a path that a child walks – a path needing our love, support and encouragement – but not our ability to fix or to mend.
Which isn’t to say that diagnoses of autism and Asperger’s cannot be modified – even abandoned completely – over time. This isn’t to say that healing and development aren’t possible – are very possible! – within those terms.  It isn’t to say that many of the diagnosed come to be “normal” once a healing path is undertaken – and that the diagnosis can be regarded as a label which has expired.  But rather that we as parents and teachers and those who care for children with challenges (and many others aside from autism and Asperger’s) do not need to burden ourselves with the load of guilt which one could carry if one sets out to “fix” the problem.
Much of this book is about cultivating a kind of openness and basic respect for the child with challenges, understanding that his or her behaviors, though they might seem irrational to us, have to do with her need to understand and experience her world – but in her own way which feels safe to her. To get anywhere with such a child requires real self knowledge on the part of the parent/teacher/therapist. Rudolf Steiner “repeatedly emphasized the moral tenor which should underlie any interventional methods, and educators were called upon to have respect and reverence for the child’s real being above all else. In a sense, the child’s own being could tell them what needed to be done, in each individual case, but this required educators to consciously develop their powers of empathy.” (page 181).
Lastly, I recommend this book to anyone who seeks to understand the therapeutic relevance of the anthroposophical view of the development of the human being, especially the enormous importance of the twelve senses. Please see my review of Daena Ross’ dvd on this topic for further information.

Posted on March 7, 2006 in Active and Therapeutic Education, Family Life and Parenting

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