I have just completed some big pieces of work and as usual following a period of intense focus I am intensely restless internally. It is almost as if i have a hyperactive body sitting inside my external appearance. Whilst hugely annoying it is helping me to reflect on the autistic spectrum children with whom I am currently working. Everyone of these kids are observably restless at times, they move around as far and often as fast as they can.
As an adult, I know I am not supposed to run around the office non-stop, even if I am feeling incredibly antsy. I look at these children and try and remember if I was like that too, moving freely, when and how I wanted. Of course, their teachers are wanting to restrict their movement, to encourage them to sit, to sit still, to be contained in their external bodies. I am how their teachers want those children to be; contained. My restlessness courses through my body, irritating me and making me grumpy and annoying, but I am containing the movement so that from the outside I look still, sitting still, quiet on the outside.
Interestingly, when I feel like this I am spectacularly unproductive, I can start things but my internal restlessness distracts me over and over. I need to make large body movements, to disperse the energy out of me and into the atmosphere. I realise that all those years of being told to be still, to sit still, to sit quietly may make me more acceptable in the office, but the trade off it that during these periods of restlessness my efficiency dwindles.
When the kids I am working with are given opportunities to move as and when they need, to work standing up or sitting on a wobble cushion or Pilates ball, they all seem more content and more focused. One child needs to push, to feel their arm and leg muscles working and I am reminded of how I like to stretch my whole body as tall/long as possible and I can feel all my muscles stretching from inside myself. Afterwards I am more centred, able to focus again and I feel connected with these children who have not yet learnt to contain their restlessness. I feel happy for them, that they may never need to, that they will find a path that contains their interests and so be naturally focused during work and study, and able to freely express their restlessness at home, once they have finished their work/study for the day.
Standing up at a desk the correct height is better for your back and neck than sitting down. Many draughtsmen and women stand up to work, as do many artists. There is no reason why children can’t, nor anyone in education or work. I wonder if in years to come, sitting down for hours on end will be out of fashion, in the same way that lying on a chaise long to eat went out of fashion!
Considering that most nations are trying to prevent/halt/decrease obesity rates, it would seem sensible to let kids move around as much as they can. This would keep them fit and burning calories! But mostly it would prevent them having to experience this awful internal restlessness that can only be released through breaking the learnt containment which is holding it in. Bouncing on a trampoline is highly effective – as many people, both young and old, on the spectrum know. Others run, spin, dance, flap…
My partner says I ‘feel’ restless at these times, and ascribes it to boredom. But, it isn’t boredom in any traditional sense. It is more of a what now? Now I have just done something that I focused on intensely for, in this case 20 hours over 2 days, what do I do now? I usually only get this feeling when I have finished major projects or tasks. Whereas my colleagues take the end of a project as a time for celebrating, usually with a drink, I am restless, searching for my next project.
Some of our spectrum kids need projects for their minds and movement to switch on the focus. At the IASE conference in Vancouver, there was a great presentation from a school for dyslexic kids where the students had told the school they needed to stand up, to move around, in order to be able to think, before being focused and efficient. They went from movement to focus to movement to focus. I think I need to find my movement again, meantime I will keep working with these kids to build their focus in and between moving!