Who knew that 18 years ago I was actually a mindfulness coach? Each year of teaching brought a barrage of students with varying special needs. In my (supposed) learning support class, it was becoming more and more evident that ADHD and other autism spectrum behaviors required that I investigate and implement nonacademic interventions to address behavior.
After 3 years in my learning support program, Eric had come a long way. The progress he made all the way from throwing himself on the floor and exploding to quietly walking out of the classroom and self-calming was arduously earned. The first step was providing him with a safe place to explode in the classroom and a subsequent transition to a private space outside the classroom. Next, I implemented a series of lessons aimed to help him identify external and internal triggers. Finally, we worked on a self-calming technique which involved visualizing a balloon expanding in his chest coupled with a series of deep compressions and breathing exercises to let the air out. By the end of year three, he was able to quietly slip out of the classroom, lean against the wall, calm down, and then return to the class room.
Many colleagues not only questioned my techniques, but expressed concerns to the principal. Yet, as Eric’s chanting “I’m a balloon,” and deep-breathing became a common sight in the hallways of the school, the doubters became fans. In essence, I taught him to recognize what his body was telling him at that moment and, through breathing, self-calm. It was a crucial skill because until he was calm, all intervention on the teacher’s part was ineffective. By year four, he even mastered additional skills and was able to reenter the room and seek redirection if needed and if otherwise return to his seat and continue his work. Eric was extremely bright and used his mind to clinically evaluate and internalize the skill. He was and will always be one of my student heroes.
I created similar techniques over the years that were very effective. Most were based on my psychology and holistic health education background. As a special education teacher, I realized early on that commercial lesson plans often did not meet the highly individualized needs of my students. So, I had to “do the math” in order to design lessons and techniques for remediation. Since that time, ‘mindfulness’ has become one of the special needs buzz words. I made it my personal quest to learn the what, where, why, and how of ‘mindfulness.’
Did you know…
Jon Kabat-Zinn, is the recognized father of contemporary, medically based mindfulness. Thirty years ago, he developed a therapeutic meditation practice known as Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). He defined mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness guru, Lidia Zylowska, M.D, a psychiatrist and founding member of the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) elaborates, “Mindfulness starts with attention, and that skill is applied to increase awareness of thoughts, emotions and behaviors. In this way, mindfulness also leads to increased choice.” Based on Kabat-Zenn’s initial practices, we have seen an explosion of programs for use by teachers, counselors, coaches and parents.
Hmmm…sounds a lot like my “I’m a balloon” was actually a mindful practice. It’s not my purpose to train people in the art of mindfulness. What I really want to do is open the eyes of parents and teachers to the possibility of a strategy/technique that could help them change…in a good way! All too often I have seen a new or different technique ridiculed because it goes against the familiar. I caution parents and teachers to not reject, but investigate, and, if needed, create your own methods. Complex children have complex problems and sometimes ideas that seem out-of-the-box are really the solution to your child’s needs. As a college freshman, Eric no longer chants “I’m a balloon,” but still mindfully uses breathing techniques to calm and center himself.