Pathways to Freedom!

Humans are complex creatures, and we all develop, grow, learn and do just about everything at our own individual pace. As we develop, learn new things and form patterns and habits, our brains naturally create pathways as the same neurons connect in the same way over and over and over again. These pathways become strong and automatic the more we use them, making those things we do repeatedly easier and even automatic, like walking, conversing with a friend, or brushing our teeth. However, when complications occur, developing, growing, learning and doing things are often hindered because pathways are not formed or are not able to bring about the desired result. This is why therapy, repetition and routines are so important when things do not work the way they should.

During my middle school years, I took therapeutic horseback riding lessons. My instructor, Eileen, told me one time that a horse's walking gait is similar enough to a human's walking gait that riding a horse can help a person with a brain injury to catch the rhythm of walking and be able to use that rhythm to form a pathway in their own brain for walking. A few years later when I was in high school, I met a student in the SH class who sparked my interest in working with people with disabilities. She had autistism, and I only ever heard her say one phrase, "Lisa can't swallow." - Lisa was a student in the class next door who had a tracheotomy. I saw Vea every day during lunch when I went into her classroom to hide while I ate, and every day she would come up to me saying that one phrase until she was shooed outside so the teachers could take a lunch break. It bothered me that I did not know how to respond to her, especially since it felt like there was more inside of her than that one phrase. So I decided to try talking to her like I would anyone else, and the next time I saw her, our conversation went like this.

"Lisa can't swallow."

"Hi Vea! How are you?"

"Fine." She answered with no expression.

I was surprised and excited, so I asked her what she did that morning. She paused then started stimming as she turned around and went outside, which told me that she could probably only answer yes and no questions. The next day, our conversation began the same way only this time I picked up from passing conversations that they had gone shopping that morning, so I asked her if she had gone shopping. She said yes, smiled and bounced a little in her excitement before turning to go outside. This became our daily routine, and once our conversation began she never said "Lisa can't swallow" as though that phrase was the only pathway or poke-out she had for connecting with others. It felt like I had found a way to connect with her that brought her outside of the box she was in, and it was fun to see her excitement in having a connection. It was also fun to know that she looked for me as though she wanted to come out. Over the next few weeks, might have even been a couple of months, the teachers began noticing how Vea looked for me and interacted with me on her own beyond that one phrase. Then one day we all had a surprise. She found me right as I walked in the door and said, "Hi Jessica." The teachers heard her as they were walking through, and our jaws almost hit the floor. Our routine had apparently created a pathway that she was eventually able to use on her own!

Granted, a person has to want to push forward in spite of their setbacks like Vea did. So for those who do want to push forward, how many pathways and how much freedom could routines bring them into in spite of their setbacks? This question has been in my mind of late since some of my own routines have changed, which has in turn affected the spasticity in my muscles as well as some levels of communication. It makes me laugh and kind of want to cry at the same time when people say that I communicate well after I have said that I have hard time communicating. This is because their comments show me how little of who I am they actually see, as if there's nothing more to who I am than what I need help with. Explaining tasks that need to be done shows nothing of who I am, but I'm good at it due to it being the only consistant communication I've had for forty plus years. On the other hand, since relational interactions are occasional and often broken up from constant interruptions, the flow of that pathway comes and goes depending on how often it is used. Yet it is when this relational/connecting level of communication happens consistantly enough, that the creative parts of who I am begin to wake up, and I begin to dream, create..and LIVE! not just function.

The other area in my life greatly affected by routines is muscle control. Daily life has its stresses that make my muscles tighter and more spastic, and additional stresses increase this even more. Therefore, I must find ways to help my muscles relax because I don't have the muscle control to relax them on my own. Since my muscles mimic those in closest physical proximity to me (Like a newborn's muscles do), my muscles relax/calm best when I'm near calm, healthy people who are connectors like I am. When I am able to find people and/or circumstances that bring calm to my muscles, they will start relaxing in anticipation if these calming circumsances become enough of a routine. Having a routine in my case creates patterns that my muscles can memorize, and the calming effect from this predictability eventually improves my muscle control and balance. Muscle memory also enables my muscles to anticipate what is coming and be able to fall in step with what I need them to do with less of my conscious thought involved. This frees my brain to be able to think beyond making my muscles work, which then affects my interactions and ability to build healthy relationships. Regular healthy connections and flow in conversation can actually completely relax my muscles and stop the spastic twitches. So it makes me wonder how much and what types of routines could help clients who have muscle control issues?

It's been intriguing to discover different reasons why routines are an important part of people's lives. Reasons range from communication and muscle control, inner healing, balancing hormones, managing behavior issues, to staying with a healthy diet plan, maintaining workable schedules, etc. So the question remains, how many pathways and how much freedom could routines bring people in spite of their setbacks? How can we help those we are with to keep their routines in a way that brings them into their highest potential, dreams and destiny?...

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