Because one of our grandchildren was diagnosed at two years of age as suffering from Autism, I’ve attended many classes and conferences on the subject.
The documentary Looking for Me of dance therapist Janet Adler working with two pretty little girls, who were severely autistic, seems to me to illustrate beautifully what God has done for us by becoming fully human in Jesus.
One of the girls was close to three years old and the other was almost four, when they began therapy. Neither of the girls had ever wanted anyone, even their parents, to hug or hold them or even touch them. They made no eye contact. In fact, they didn’t respond to anyone’s presence except to try to keep their distance.
One little girl walked on her toes while waving or shaking her hands. She was in constant motion. Even when she tired, she would sit on the floor rocking back and forth. The other little girl made strange little movements with her fingers, curling them in and out and shaking her head a lot and sometimes standing, licking the wall. Neither child paid any attention to her own reflection in the mirrors in the large dance room or to the therapist.
The therapist worked with them separately. She put music on and just stood to the side. Slowly she began to copy their movements, watching them carefully, so she could get it right. She skipped around the room on her tip toes along with the one child, but giving her plenty of space. When the child sat down and held herself, rocking back and forth, the therapist sat in front of her, but at a ‘safe’ distance, and did the same thing, until the child did something else. She copied the hand movements of the other little girl and even licked the wall.
This went on for months.
Very gradually, the children let the distance close between her and them, but never touching. Slowly, you see them watching her intently and changing behaviors to see if she would. They began to look less tense and even began to seem to be enjoying the ‘interaction,’ such as it was. Finally, in a breath taking moment, when the therapist and the child are skipping side by side all around the room, we see the child reach out and take the therapist’s hand as they are skipping.
Soon, the other little girl, when she and the therapist were sitting facing each other almost in touching distance, suddenly got on her knees and reached over to put her arms around the therapist’s neck and even snuggled her head on her shoulder.
Both children progressed slowly to sitting on her lap, establishing eye contact, and even feeling her face and body over and over, like a baby learning the shape of her mother. Then and only then, they began to notice themselves in the mirror and to spend time looking at themselves, turning away and coming back over and over. They would touch their reflection, lick their reflection, see their movements copied, touch their own face and body, connecting the feeling with the reflection and finally smile at their reflection. Then, they would move back to relating to the therapist.
In the last video the children would hug and snuggle and smile and laugh and play and dance with the therapist.
The video didn’t say when or whether they began to talk, but it did say that they began to relate to other people also.
Can you imagine the joy of their parents?
Do you think perhaps God’s (and the universe’s) joy is like that, when we finally accept unconditional love and begin to respond?
It seemed to me, that the therapist in reflecting the children, took on their limits. She communicated not only acceptance, but even a valuing of who they were. She spoke their language and walked in their skin with them, freeing them to grow in the safety of that relationship. Finally they were able to generalize from that relationship and risk the vulnerability of relating to others.
It seems to me that God, through fleshing out His love in Jesus, has shown us that he not only accepts us, He understands our humanity from the inside out, that He knows first-hand what a rough gig life is. He says to us, like the therapist to the children, “You are not alone.” Then He loves us gently and patiently into wholeness, or holiness, freeing us to love ourselves in our imperfection, and thus, to then risk the vulnerability of loving one another.