For the past 13 years, I’ve been raising a son on the autism spectrum.  He is very high functioning but he has had any number of behavior challenges over the years that I’ve had to learn to manage.  A few months ago, a remarkable horse named Scout, came galloping into my life.  (If you want to read the whole magical story, be sure and read: When the Universe says, “Here, Take THIS….” ) Because he spent the first 10 years in his life in a stall, he deals with anxiety.  Since I’ve been helping my son manage his anxiety for a long time, I completely understood Scout’s.  Then I realized that when Scout was exhibiting the anxiety, it was similar to my son’s autism meltdowns.  And in my mind, I started comparing the two on a regular basis.  I have found the similarities to be remarkable.  Here are just some of the ones I have noticed:

  • A change in environment triggers the meltdown/anxiety.  For a child on the spectrum, change, particularly unexpected change, can trigger a meltdown or anxiety.  For Scout, moving him away from his preferred pasture mate/buddy triggers his anxiety.

  • There is a commonly used phrase in the autism world:  “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”  Change or improvement takes time, frequently a multitude of therapeutic approaches, baby steps, and lots and lots of patience.  When a horse has so many years of being neglected, all of the above applies.  Change is not going to happen overnight and patience is a core requirement.  I had to start with just “hanging out” with him and not requiring anything of him other than allowing me to rub on him, talk to him, etc.  Then I moved up to getting his halter on and walking him short distances away from his pasture and pasture mate.

  • Both respond well to being touched to regain focus when distracted.  For my son, touching him on the shoulder often will get him refocused.  For Scout, even just one finger on his chest or shoulder gets him refocused on me rather than his surroundings.

  • There WILL be setbacks, regression, etc.  My son had violent meltdowns when he was very young.  Through a number of therapeutic approaches, both medical and behavioral, they stopped for quite some time.  About the age of 10, they returned and since he was bigger and stronger, they were more intense.  This continued for almost 2 years.  It was disappointing and brutally stressful.  After consistent near daily practice, Scout was doing really well, he was moving farther and farther away from his pasture and pasture buddy without anxiety.  And then one day, BOOM, it was back.  Just stepping out of the pasture brought his anxiety out.  Talk about discouraging.  Sometimes it’s just 2 steps forward and 3 steps back.  And you have to start all over.   “Baby steps, marathon not a sprint”  just gets repeated over and over again in your brain.

  • You WILL cry (or you SHOULD cry.  It’s a great release.)  You will get discouraged.  You will wonder if it’s ever going to change.  You will wonder WHY this is happening to you.  Did you get in over your head?

  • The best training approach for both is modeled after ABA, (Applied Behavioral Analysis) which rewards good behavior and ignores or at times, corrects the behavior you don’t want.  The theory is to heavily reward when you are first starting to make the change, then decrease the reward as the behavior becomes integrated.  Or shift the reward to a new behavior you desire.  For a child on the spectrum, the reward might be a special food or X amount of time with a movie or game.  For Scout, the reward is “cookies” when he pays attention to me rather than focusing on his pasture and pasture mate.  Or it may be that he needs to stand without “dancing” for a increasingly extended period of time.  When he discovered “cookies” were part of the equation, he quickly started ignoring his “long-lost” pasture mate.  LOL

  • And then it happens….. that breakthrough.  That moment that makes it ALL worth it, because you see their response to your hard work and diligence.  My son has now gone over a year with no meltdowns.  I was scared that when he became a teenager and hit puberty, he would regress again.  It’s not uncommon for children on the spectrum.  But what has happened?  All the coping skills and tools I’ve equipped him with are finally integrated.   He’s USING them.  And Scout?  We’re not there yet, but discovering the use of “cookies” as a training tool was a big breakthrough and I’m excited about what the future holds.

I’m sure there are many, many other similarities that have yet to come into my awareness, but these are the patterns I’ve noticed to date.

You may be wondering how all of this is related to metaphysics….  What I know about myself and my clients is that finding the patterns and cycles is the key to identifying and clearing limiting beliefs, energy that may be affecting the situation, cords that need to be cut, and ultimately, the source of the challenge.  And I also think Scout’s challenges really improve his ability to be a healer himself as he recognizes the anxiety, pain, emotional blocks in you.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Healing takes place in layers, whether it’s a child on the spectrum, a horse with anxiety, or any person with any challenge.  There you go, that’s how it’s related.  🙂

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