Does Isaac need to be flexible for yoga?

In the year before diagnosis, appointments with a plethora of professionals came thick and fast. But any revealing results were slow in coming and thin on the ground. The only real discovery we made was that one of us taking Isaac was better than both. A distraught child can elicit antagonism between the most harmonious of couples. With screaming and scratching focused on whoever was closest, the other parent becomes as helpless as the advice they are trying to give. A negative vortex of emotions ensue.

My wife did the lion’s share of these trips that were always met with a roar of disapproval from Isaac. Each one a nightmare with everything stacked up clumsily against him. His specific traits that we knew little of then were being completely compromised and this contaminated his mood and sensibility severely. His strict, systemised mind had to deal with variable waiting times, confined spaces, no entry zones, toys he wasn’t used to, toys he was, and toys he had to stop playing with. And his intense sensory seeking was bombarded with bright lights, beeping sounds, buttons, flashes, people milling about and more. (All this was probably even more disorientating to him than the actual therapy, blood tests, occasional scans, lights shone in his eyes, and people testing – or simply misreading – him.)

Isaac would surface from these gruelling sessions puffy eyed, exhausted and sad. This disgruntlement with the world left him out of sync and out of action for the rest of the day. The same can be said for my wife, and on the occasions I took him, me too. At least one of us had been spared, knowing that our presence would have made things worse.
My perceived clarity of these events benefits from hindsight of course. Was it that bad? Most probably. Knowing now what I didn’t then makes it all crystal clear. It also provides something very instructive – that the contrast to the visits to professionals where the environments accommodate him as opposed to alienate him is stark.

We still split activities between the two of us, as much for reasons of time efficiency as damage limitation. And Yoga is an activity my wife has been taking Isaac to that he simply adores. Now it was my turn. I would be taking him to this appointment with a professional on my own.

The instructions from my wife were, as always, deep and detailed. Isaac’s daily schedules need to be carried out to the letter – surprises spell disaster more often than not. That much we know. I absorbed the instructions, fully preparing to apply them consciously. But then I had a thought. And it came from the comparable anxiety and dread I used to experience – when I would at some point physically drag this boy into and out of meetings; him screeching, disapproving people everywhere. What’s the polar opposite of deliberately and forcefully having to navigate Isaac around when he least expects it? Letting him lead the way is.

Something he does with mummy, he knows daddy is taking him this week – why not let him apply his exacting daily schedule to this event he so enjoys. Put him in a position of control. I’d be the flexible one for the yoga trip. Ambitious and daring maybe. But, as I say, the contrast to where we were brings things into focus.


From the moment we pulled up at the yoga centre – that I’d never been to before – Isaac started to orchestrate proceedings in his (currently) clipped tones and precise manner. “Daddy, stop the car please! This is Charlotte’s house! We are going to do yoga now. Daddy can you stay outside, please. Isaac kisses knee. Now we are going up in lift. Okay??” His commentary style of speaking means that right now he resembles a 1950s TV football reporter. With a slightly higher voice. There’s a purpose and momentum to all his discourse. “Isaac, where are we going?” I asked, genuinely baffled by the different doors, stairs and alley ways. “This way, please. Through the door, daddy. To Charlotte, OK”, he said skipping adeptly through a door and up some stairs.

Inside this predictably tranquil and composed centre, Isaac ran into the arms of Charlotte. There was a shared happiness and appreciation that something extraordinarily brilliant and fun was about to happen between them. He took his shoes off in a swift way that I’d barely seen, and slotted them neatly in a box in a way I’d never seen. And then together, Charlotte and Isaac skipped into a room and closed the door. The smoothness and speed of everything left me surprised but as serene as the surroundings.

When, pre-diagnosis, Isaac was being examined or having therapy – or whatever –waiting to hear the next scream was heart in the mouth stuff. Conversely, there’s nothing more heart warming than hearing the giggles and elation of your at-peace son emanating from a room where he’s being stimulated, developed and understood.

After twenty minutes, the door opened and Isaac, with a sublime smile, eyes wide, delighted and fixed on mine, sprinted into my arms. We hugged and I held him tightly, overcome. A five year old running into a parents arms may be an everyday occurrence; probably not when the child has autism though. And whilst Isaac is hugely affectionate (with ‘learned’ cuddles the latest addition to his evolving physical language) this run and hug had a more profound feel – and felt amazing. He ran because he was desperate to tell me about what happened and I sensed that gorgeous anticipation, the connection which was so constrained in his early years. I saw it in his eyes. Charlotte read the situation immaculately, teasing out little questions for Isaac to answer and sow together a little narrative from his session: “What did you kiss Isaac?” “I kissed my knee” “What did you say?” “I said Isaac om..” “How do you feel Isaac?” “I feel fantastic!”

Isaac took me to the big, clunky lift (I remembered that going up in the stairs and down in the lift was the routine) and we waved goodbye to Charlotte. Then barely keeping up with him, we went to the car. And as we drove off, I reminded myself of the disgruntled, out of sorts, sad boy of pre-diagnosis, and then looked at this now calm and collected boy. He was content, I imagine, as much from the yoga as from knowing that his specific plans had been executed with the precision he yearns.

But as with all things autism, I made a note to appreciate the moment and not look too far ahead. A trip to the opticians with all its discomfort, unpredictability and need for Isaac to be flexible is on the horizon.Leave a Reply

A New Kind Of Holiday

This article originally appeared on www.enablemagazine.com  

 
This year we took a holiday from holidays, so to speak. It was at times arduous (mainly for my wife Eliza), relentless and repetitive. But it was also as relaxing as it could be and reassuringly routine for our son Isaac, who has autism. And that was all that mattered. 
 
LOSING BATTLE 
 
Since Isaac was born, my relationship with holidays has been fractious. A trip to a peaceful Mediterranean resort a few months before his diagnosis reached the pinnacle of distress for him and despair for us. What we know now – that routine is his oxygen, his thinking rigid, and he’s never a second away from sensory overload – means we were fighting a losing battle daily. 
 
It rips my heart out how we were (unknowingly) letting him down. From forceful shepherding through maddening airports, to inconsistent mealtimes, to improvising the day’s events, to a need for armbands in the pool. 
 
But out of the chaos came the calm of successive UK-based holidays. Where mapping out the journey right down to the service station visited, meant Isaac knew what, where and when, and was a delight and delighted as a result. Photos of the cottage before we got there, his favourite books, specific foods. We’ve had an all-out autism-friendly couple of holidays. 
 
BREAKTHROUGH 
 
And then, last year – a big bold breakthrough. Engineered and orchestrated by my wife, we ventured on to a plane to a little house we knew in a cosy complex with a swimming pool. Despite Isaac being able to learn and speak in his own way and express himself better all the time, he and we are very much governed by autism. So meticulous planning was absolutely critical with visual cards navigating us through the hardest bit: the airport with all its twists and turns. 
 
He knew we were going “in an aeroplane, in the sky, to somewhere hot”. He could “splash about with pants and a jacket” (an inflatable one). He’d have all his books and DVDs and food with us. 
 
NO SURPRISE 
 
My wife’s preparation meant minimal surprise and small but consistent rewards led to a successful experience. A half hour – allowed for in the schedule – going up and down the escalators, provided sensory relief for him. On the plane, he actually enjoyed the turbulence which confirmed how topsy-turvy his balance and physical being is. It was a liberating and lovely holiday. 
 
We stayed put this year. Isaac was fine with it – he doesn’t seek adventure, escape from the norm. His holiday was blissful as he went on the tube every day, printed pictures, and was thrilled that days were panning out as planned. He also got to kiss his new baby sister Tabitha every day, which was enough change for him to deal with for one summer.