Friday, August 08, 2014

On Being Like a Child: Hildegard's Gift

Some of our special needs children face many illnesses, and a book like Hildegard's Gift by Megan Hoyt offers encouragement. In full disclosure, this review is biased because Megan is my friend. I did buy a copy for her to sign with my own money. And, if you don't believe my praise, read the wonderful review at Publishers Weekly. And, it happens to be on sale right now!

Hildegard was a composer, nun, herbalist, writer, and many other things who lived nine hundred years ago. From the time she was a young child, she suffered from terrible headaches that left her worn out and bedridden at times. Megan's book weaves many big ideas into this children's biography of Hildegard: not all gifts come in packages, with some gifts comes pain, sometimes our frail bodies need rest, sometimes we must persevere even when our body is not cooperating, sometimes our talents are as plain as day, and sometimes they appear in God's good timing. Megan sprinkled Hildegard's words throughout the text. The illustrations by David Hill strike me as Narnian, and that is the highest praise I can give to a piece of art. The tone of the book is sweet and gentle, but also gives children a glimpse of the dark times in Hildegard's life.

We were blessed on July 28 when Megan did a book signing event for us during Clockwise. My friends from prov.en.der came to Harvest and shared what they know about "unhurried time" with our teachers, parents, teachers from one of our sister schools, and homeschoolers.

Humility, being childlike, going through a day done Mason's way, helped us understand "unhurried time." We did copywork, studied dictation, recitation, picture study, history, poetry, prayer, hymns, literature, math, handicraft, nature walk, etc. Our special guest Megan introduced us to Hildegard, not just through her book, but in many ways. She gave us more details about her world and what life was like. She showed us paintings of how people portrayed this visionary woman.

Megan shared many delightful things about Hildegard in ways that tapped into our senses. Throughout the day, we listened to her music while we did work that required quiet thought. We tried singing "O Ignis Spiritus" in the best melisma style that we could. She invited one of our teachers, who grows all sorts of herbs in her garden, to share those that Hildegard might have enjoyed. I don't want to give it all away, but we enjoyed it so much I plan to invite her back so our kids can get to see a bona fide author who is published! If you live within a reasonable distance from the Charlotte area, I encourage you to contact her for a book signing.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

What Humility Has to Do with Autism

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. ~ Lord Acton
Some friends and I were commenting on an article which states that people in power are less sensitive to social cues. "Studies have repeatedly shown that participants who are in high positions of power (or who are temporarily induced to feel powerful) are less able to adopt the visual, cognitive or emotional perspective of other people, compared to participants who are powerless (or are made to feel so)."

People in power are less able to mirror the emotions of others. It explains why politicians seem out of touch the longer they stay in Washington. Why the people who suffered at the hands of the monarchy and the czars committed cruel acts after they won revolutions. "When people experience power, their brains fundamentally change how sensitive they are to the actions of others." It causes me to appreciate people like George Washington: the people would have given him honors, titles, rank, and lavishness worthy of a king, but he remained humble. He went back to farming after his eight years in office ended.

If you have a special needs child in your life, this article becomes personal! The world views our children as weak — less than human. Their vulnerability makes others feel powerful. A friend's husband is in a wheelchair due to a recent accident. Although she works with special needs students, she didn't understand what it's like until now. People don't look her husband in the eye: he's beneath them. He communicates well, yet one waitress didn't leave a bill until my friend had returned from the bathroom.

Even in fleeting encounters, power lowers resonance with social cues. "For those participants who were induced to experience feelings of power, their brains showed virtually no resonance with the actions of others; conversely, for those participants who were induced to experience feelings of powerlessness, their brains resonated quite a bit. In short, the brains of powerful people didn't mirror the actions of other people."

Whether we are parent, teacher, or therapist, power can go to our head, especially when a task is vital. For me, that hot button was potty training because diapers shut down many opportunities. Pamela was six years old and still in pull-ups. No matter how often we headed her to the bathroom, she never realized it was time to go. Fortunately, I had read that a benefit of a gfcf diet was improved bladder control. I quit potty training until we started homeschooling Pamela and took her off certain foods. Fortunately, I had never pushed Pamela to the point of causing me to regret my actions. Had I not known about food connection, it could have happened.

Certain kinds of therapy puts the adult into a powerful role. Think about what a person might do to a child, even a well-intentioned adult who only wants the best for that child, might do because of the power differential. Even an intelligent, loving adult might overstep boundaries because power has shut down the mirror neurons that promote empathy. We know what can happen when a low-verbal or non-verbal child is put in the hands of someone with too much power. We see the awful stories on the news all the time!

I prefer Relationship Development Intervention and Charlotte Mason because adults are viewed as encouragers and guides. Children are valued for who they are, whether they are brilliant or a bit delayed or far, far "behind." In this "must-see" video on being the father of someone with autism and apraxia, Matt Oakes put our roles as parents and teachers very well.

"I don't think it's my job to force Liam to be the kind of kid, the kind of person that I want him to be. It's our job as parents, it's my job as his dad, to help him find who he is."

"Is." Not "will be."

"A child is a born person." ~ Charlotte Mason

The view of ourselves as persons in authority must be accurate as well. Matt appreciates the importance of humility.

"Instead of being this sort of superhero for their kids, I think that a good dad is someone who just humbles himself in front of their kids and finds ways to reach to their kid where they are and say I see you and I love you."

"I think to help kids unlock who they are you have to realize as a dad, as a parent, that it's really not about you. But, to make it about the kid, you have to be vulnerable and you have to be humble. You have to let that stuff go."

Mason cautioned us about our view of ourselves in this way, "Our deadly error is to suppose that we are his showman to the universe; and, not only so, but that there is no community at all between child and universe unless such as we choose to set up." She kicks this view of humility up a notch by recognizing authority properly.
"When we learn to realise that––God is, Self is, the World is, with all that these existences imply, quite untouched by any thinking of ours, unprovable, and self-proven,––why, we are at once put into a more humble attitude of mind. We recognise that above us, about us, within us, there are "more things . . . than are dreamt of in our philosophy." We realise ourselves as persons, we have a local habitation, and we live and move and have our being in and under a supreme authority." ~ Charlotte Mason
Humbling ourselves forces us to trust in the Teacher, the Holy Spirit, to work in our children what we cannot do. Like Matt said, our role is not to force our children to be what we want them to be. Only the Holy Spirit knows who they are. In our humility, we can help them find out. Since God already knows, the more we trust Him, the less we get in the way.
"When we recognise that God does not make over the bringing up of children absolutely even to their parents, but that He works Himself, in ways which it must be our care not to hinder, in the training of every child, then we shall learn passiveness, humble and wise. We shall give children space to develop on the lines of their own characters in all right ways, and shall know how to intervene effectually to prevent those errors which, also, are proper to their individual characters." ~ Charlotte Mason
I attended two Charlotte Mason retreats in the past two weeks. Clockwise invited me to assume a humble posture, that of a child, where we immersed ourselves in a typical school day. Living Education Retreat gave me three verses on humility:

"Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" 1 Peter 5:5

"Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves." Luke 22:26

"At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, 'Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'" Matthew 18:1-4