We stood by the side of the road to catch our breath. Quinn wasn’t able to walk far without falling, adding yet another boo-boo to the connect-the-dots style scabs on his knees and elbows. His tiny hand gripped mine for balance. Though my hand was there, my heart and mind were far away. I was absorbed in my own world, in the midst of a challenging medical diagnosis and relationship breakup. How was I supposed to guide this little guy if I myself needed something to help me take the next step on our walk? I was out of ideas and energy, grasping more to my sadness than his hand, and so I asked for a miracle. I needed something big to convince my feet to take another step.
I’m not sure what I expected when I thought “miracle”. Perhaps the clouds would part and brilliant beams of light would illuminate the path for me. Perhaps Publisher’s Clearing House would stop us by the roadside and claim me the sweepstakes winner giving us a limo-style lift home. But instead the most subtly powerful thing happened – so understated I could have easily missed it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Quinn, unprompted, picked up one knee and hold it there. Both of our worlds shifted. I knew something sacred had happened. Let me explain.
As a yoga educator, previously working in an international autism therapy center, I’ve had the unique opportunity to work with the parents of autistic children and the professionals that support them, from all over the world. I was always amazed by these exceptional families. It seemed in their often exclusive behavior, that autistic children were connected to an inward driving force that many yogis and spiritual leaders take a lifetime to acquire. In fact, to my untrained eye, it appeared our busy reality was more disruptive than anything to the autistic experience. I knew it was socially acceptable to say I wanted to help these children, but truthfully I wanted to learn from them as much as help. To justify my want to spend more time with Austistic children I’d begun developing a yoga and breathing program for special kids. The goal being to help these amazing kids connect in comfortable ways to the world around them, and also support their caregivers and professional staff by sharing ways to avoid burn out and nourish themselves.
Now Quinn is a fascinating little boy. He is many amazing things, and also autistic. When I began working with him a few months ago a recent evaluation concluded that while he is five years old, he in many ways demonstrates the intelligence of a seven year old. The body however, that houses his brilliance, has the motor skills of a toddler. Ever had a nightmare where you are desperately trying to run away from the “bad guy” but you just can’t seem to move fast enough? This is how I imagine the intensity Quinn must feel when he wants to speak, or run across the room to reach something, but the words and movements get stuck in his body.
After physical assessments it was clear that Quinn’s core muscles were not always active, causing him to walk using his hips in his version of a squatting John Wayne style shuffle. His balance as a result was compromised making big falls a daily event. In short my goal was to help Quinn engage his core muscles, stretching upward, and become more aware of his legs and feet as he walks.
We had created fun games to inspire Quinn to stand up tall and feel his feet on the floor. In an effort to strengthen the stabling muscles in his hips that would help him catch himself from a potential fall, I had initiated our version of the Crane Pose in Yoga (traditionally done standing on one leg with arms outreached to the sides). Quinn and I call it “one knee up”. Now for most of us the reason we practice such a pose is because it is challenging. Give it a try – stand tall for a moment, draw your belly in as if hugging your spine. Allow your arms to be relaxed as you reach them out to the side and raise one knee to hip height. Once more imagine that for Quinn this challenging pose feels like he is standing a cushy pillow, or wobbly skate board, rather than the solid ground we feel. For the shear challenge of picking up one leg Quinn was often reluctant to try. Struggling to stand already, my request to pick one leg up was often the last straw.
And yet on this day, when I paused and made a silent request for the strength to take another step, Quinn showed me how. Quinn demonstrated that despite his daily challenges he was willing to not just walk the path ahead, but climb with legs raised high. Couldn’t I do the same? My brain and body worked in unison, if Quinn could rise to the occasion could I? Now Quinn didn’t take off in a gallop down the road suddenly able to run free. In fact he held my hand dearly for support for the rest of the walk, but this time I held his on purpose. And we walked home, one step at a time, with the occasional “one knee up”.
Gradually Quinn’s John Wayne shuffle has given way towards a more balanced stride. While his swagger may have lessened, his modern cowboy style of strength of spirit has only grown. Quinn doesn't ride the dusty range, but this cowboy shows enough strength and spirit to rival even the toughest of western outlaws. My cowboy is five. He’s autistic. We take baby steps, and if I keep my eyes open I see the simple miracles he creates every day.