Autism and Understanding: The Waldon Approach to Child Development


Walter Solomon, Chris Holland & Mary Jo Middleton

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    A Note Regarding the Photographs

    The cover picture and the photographs in Chapter 5 were taken at the Autism Resource Base at St Nicholas School, Oxford. ‘The cover demonstrates the attention of two children with Autistic spectrum condition who can sometimes be distracted and anxious, finding it hard to maintain their concentration’, wrote Sue Saville, Head of Base.


    I started to write this book many years ago but the real impetus came in September 2005 when my late wife Ruth and I went to a writing course organized by Sharon Colback in the heart of the French countryside. The first chapter was started during that week and the other participants encouraged me enormously. So thanks to Sharon first and then to Penelope and Charles Rowlatt who were workshop co-participants and have watched and contributed comments over the past six years. I started writing again in 2008 after I had gone back to France to live amongst the vineyards of the Gironde. There must be something in the air or in the wine.

    Thanks next to Bee Bee Waldon who generously gave her time and knowledge over a couple of long interviews and then directed me to the centres in Leeds and Oxfordshire. So thanks also to Terry Buchan and Richard Brooks who introduced me to their networks in Leeds and Oxfordshire respectively. Richard and the late Sheila Coates were also kind enough to let me have copies of the teaching videos they had taken during Geoffrey Waldon's workshops. Although these could not be included in the book they will be on the associated website as a rich source of learning.

    Thanks most especially to Robert who encouraged me to write and has contributed freely of his memories, pain and joy as he emerged from his shell. It was often hard for him but he shares my hope that this book will be as helpful to others as the Waldon Lessons were for him. A special thanks to my daughter Debbie who found and gave me the beginnings of my first wife Pamela's book after she had also died too young. This made it possible to include her important voice in the first chapter. Debbie read the chapters as they developed and made useful comments and suggestions.

    Thanks to Nigel Lawson who read the early drafts and kept me focused when I strayed along irrelevant pathways. Very special thanks to the long list of parents and students who have generously told me about their experiences and of their sometimes painful memories; without the interviews with them in chapters seven and eight this book would have been both less valuable and less interesting.

    Thanks also to colleagues of, and teachers influenced by Geoffrey Waldon, who have given generously of their time and expertise. Interviews with many of them are the basis of chapter six. A special mention to Jiri Berger of Iceland who shared with me his important paper on the use of the Waldon Approach in a school setting, and to Anamarija Filipie Dolniear who organized for me a week in Slovenia where the Waldon Approach is in use in many clinics and special schools. My family and friends told me of their early memories of Robert which are included in chapter one; so thanks to all of them.

    Warmest thanks to my co-authors Chris Holland and Mary Jo Middleton who have checked, corrected, written, edited and generally given structure to the project. The book would have been much the poorer without their input, and I have truly enjoyed working with them both. Mary Jo also produced the line drawings which appear in the text. Thanks also to my extraordinary webmaster Horst Kolo who designed the website and took the photographs for the cover and within the text.

    At my wonderful publisher SAGE, Marianne Lagrange has been unbelievably supportive from the first day that she heard about the project. It could not have happened without her. Kathryn Bromwich has been an able administrator, Jeanette Graham and Thea Watson a very sympathetic team in the editing stages and Lisa Harper produced the excellent cover design. Thanks to Katrin Stroh, who was kind enough to introduce me to SAGE; she and Thelma Robinson contributed importantly in the final stages of editing and tightening the structure.

    This has been a co-operative undertaking and Geoffrey would have been pleased at the way all those familiar with his work were excited to help and participate. The hugest of huge thanks goes to him.

    About the Authors

    Walter Solomon is the father of Robert, the autistic boy who is the first subject of the book. He was educated at St Paul's School, London and has a Master's degree in economics from Cambridge.

    He is a passionate advocate of the Waldon Approach, and a speaker on the subject of autism. Walter now lives in the Gironde, a beautiful wine-growing area of South West France.

    Chris Holland qualified in Medicine, Child and Family Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis, with special interests in early child development and in autism, from both neurological and psychological perspectives.

    He studied the Waldon Approach with Geoffrey and other staff for several years at High Wick Hospital, where he was Psychiatrist-in-Charge, as well as participating in workshops in Manchester and on Geoffrey's French tour. He is convinced that Geoffrey was decades ahead of his time, and that the Waldon Approach has a great deal to offer in all areas of education.

    Mary Jo Middleton is a physiotherapist and special needs teacher who has been using the Waldon Approach for over 25 years with a wide range of children and adults. She has a Master's degree in Philosophy and Psychology of Language.

    She met Geoffrey through other Waldon practitioners in Leeds while volunteering as a literacy teacher. She was able to visit and observe him working in Manchester and was a member of a study group which he led.

    The Foreword has been contributed by Colwyn Trevarthen who is Emeritus Professor of Child Psychology and Psychobiology at the University of Edinburgh, and is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Vice President of the British Association for Early Childhood Education.

    He originally trained as a biologist, before going on to study infancy research at Harvard in 1967, and has since published on brain development, infant communication and emotional health.

    Author's Preface

    Geoffrey Waldon developed in Manchester a theory of child development that included a carefully thought out philosophy and psychology of education. He refined this into a practical and reproducible system (the Waldon Approach), which can help children with a wide range of developmental delays.

    Meaning from movement is an expression Waldon used constantly; it is foundational to his theory of learning. The Waldon Approach was developed in the 1970s but many of the ideas have since been validated, with increased appreciation of the role that movement plays in development by researchers like Stern (2010), Gallese and Lakoff (2005) and Sheets-Johnstone (1999) among others.

    Dr Waldon – a neurologist by training – described the pathways followed by typical children; he described the steps by which children progress from one stage to the next (the learning-how-to-learn-tools), and then created a format for causing the developmentally delayed child to work through these developmental stages creating (in my opinion), neural neo-plasticity. The format requires a regular one hour Waldon Lesson, which can be given by a parent, performed in a manner which never exceeds the student's General Understanding,1 and therefore avoids anxiety and the need for anxiety-avoiding behaviours which are expected gradually to fall away.

    This approach has been echoed in the recent paper by Molly Helt et al: Can Children with Autism Recover? If So, How? They write: ‘If the brain can be forced to engage in “exercises” that represent normal behaviour and cognition, there is more potential for these behaviours to develop neurological representation’.2

    My purpose in writing Autism and Understanding is to provide a critique of the Waldon Approach and its effectiveness in helping children to develop their understanding.

    I have adopted a three part approach to achieve this.

    The first four chapters describe a particular case, that of my son Robert, who emerged from a seemingly hopeless case of remoteness (one might say autism), into a positive, constructive and contributing adult life. This was after many years of hard and devoted effort. It might be thought that any child receiving this intensity of education and dedicated support would emerge in a similar manner; but I hope to show that it was the early application of the Waldon Approach, with his unique analysis of child development, which made that possible.

    Many people to whom I have recounted his story have said that he must have been one of the high achieving autists. He has become very high achieving eventually, although a Professor of Audiology reported at 15 months:

    This most interesting little boy was seen here for a test of hearing … the possibility of peripheral deafness can be ruled out…. It was interesting to see that he did not show any interest in speech when delivered at quiet or raised intensities. Affect in this child also seemed to be absent.3

    At 22 months the educational psychologist reported: ‘My view is that Robert presents a picture of general backwardness’.4 He advised us to keep Robert at home as long as we could and when it got too difficult we should put him in an institution and get on with our lives. There was little sign at that time of any intelligence.

    As well as his weekly sessions with Geoffrey Waldon and daily lessons with my late wife Pamela, he also had three years of psychotherapy with Frances Tustin. She said that she would not have been able to work with him without Dr Waldon's previous cognitive therapy.5 His charismatic teacher Joanne Beressi feels the same way about her important work with Robert.6

    I believe that the conclusion is inescapable: Geoffrey Waldon's philosophy of child development distilled into the Waldon Approach and applied in the lessons was the catalyst which enabled Robert to emerge from his shell, to develop his understanding of the world, and to live appreciatively in it. Without Waldon he would almost certainly have become an autistic adult locked out of the world by a range of protective, self-delighting and disturbing behaviours.

    Chapter 5 is a distillation of the many articles and papers which were written by Geoffrey Waldon but which he was never able to condense into an easily comprehensible text. Perhaps he did not wish to make it easy, writing: ‘The job of the writer is to facilitate the effortful strivings of the enquirer much as the midwife eases the travails of childbirth. I shall try to be clear but the difficulty of the subject matter is a function of the reader's interest’. (Waldon 1985: 3)

    Richard Brooks wrote: ‘I can imagine him reworking the fifteenth draft, but not at a publisher's party’ (In Commemoration: Koine, The Waldon Association, 1989, p. 10). It is, however, necessary in appraising its effectiveness that the reader should understand the principles behind and the methodology of the approach, and I hope that in preparing this simplified version I have not strayed too far from Waldon's thoughts.

    Chapter 6 contains a series of interviews which illuminate the previous chapter. They are mainly with teachers who have integrated the Waldon Approach into their daily routines, one might even say into their psychology of education. They explain how Waldon has changed their method of teaching special needs children and adults, and how this has helped many students under their charge. The theory as set out in this and the previous chapter is a coherent whole. Geoffrey spent a lifetime working out the details, thinking over every point in detail and discussing each with many of the colleagues who speak in this chapter. At the time of Geoffrey's death a book was in preparation. Sadly none of the professionals have found the time or the energy to complete it. Perhaps only Geoffrey could have done this. What I have written is a simplified form of the theory but one which hopefully is true to the original and accessible to parents and to teachers. I started writing as a parent and over several years of reading, research and meeting parents and teachers have grown to understand the beauty of the approach.

    What I find most persuasive is that the approach has worked in so many different hands in so many different places. In Slovenia, through the work of Katrin Stroh, Thelma Robertson and Alan Proctor it is widespread in the special education system; and the teachers there are amazed that it is not in general use in the UK. So too are the teachers in Oxfordshire. Also a study in Iceland by Jiri Berger, PhD, showed that it worked well there in a classroom setting.

    Chapter 7 contains a series of case studies of students on the autistic spectrum and Chapter 8, studies of students with a variety of other physical and mental conditions. I have interviewed students, special needs teachers and class teachers, parents with success stories and parents where the children remain completely dependent even after many years of lessons.

    There are three young men described, Peter, Dan and Larry, who also went from ‘no hope’ to college or to university and each of their parents feel the same way as I do about the approach – that it transformed their sons' lives. Then there are children who started life with severe physical difficulties and who after many years of Waldon Lessons and devoted care by parents are still completely dependent. Even these parents feel that their child's understanding has been expanded by the lessons and virtually all of them have reported that their child (often now an adult), is now able to communicate with them at some basic level. All report that their children are more relaxed, open and able better to enjoy their still limited lives. Then there is one parent of an autistic boy, Charlie, who started when he was young, did all the right things, gave lessons at home over many years and very sadly did not have a result on the scale of Robert, Peter, Dan or Larry. The mother cannot evaluate how much the lessons helped. So it does not pretend to be a miracle cure.

    Chapter 9 contains the theory and practice of a specialized orientation of the Waldon Approach, called Functional Reading. This will be most easily appreciated by those who already have practical experience in using the learning-how-to-learn-tools described in Chapter 5 and they will find it instructive in helping slow readers to lose their fear of reading.

    My position is clear: I believe in the efficacy of the approach. Even more now that I have met so many parents and teachers who have said unequivocally: ‘Thank God someone is writing this book’. I leave it to others to judge, based on the evidence presented here, whether, amongst the many treatments for autism now available, the Waldon Approach merits further investigation and application.

    I hope I will be forgiven for using some words from another era which are no longer in acceptable usage. I have done this so as not to alter medical reports or the words spoken to me by others. I am conscious that this may offend some and for this I am sorry.

    Teachers and parents will find guidance on getting started which can be much simpler than it seems – providing the will and dedication are available. The cost in money is surprisingly small, although the emotional and time cost should not be underestimated.

    A final word: … any parent can do it. It only takes an hour a day and the materials can be found in any recycling box or attic. Some will be available through the website if a parent finds that easier than making their own. There will also be videos on the associated website showing how the lessons can be conducted.

    But understand that it is a long-term commitment. Think of an hour a day for five to seven years. Think also of the emotional investment and the strength of mind and force of personality needed to give the lessons.

    Then think of the possibility of helping your child to understand …

    WalterSolomon, 23 June 2011,
    End Notes

    1. For Waldon's definitions of his specialized terminology please see Chapter 5 where they are all described.

    2. Molly Helt, Elizabeth Kelley, Marcelle Kinsbourne, Juhi Pandey, Hilary Boorstein, Martha Herbert, Deborah Fein, 2008: ‘Can Children with Autism Recover? If So, How?’ Neuropsychology Review, Springer 2008.

    3. Report from Manchester University Department of Audiology, dated 12 June 1969.

    4. Report from Manchester University Department of Audiology, dated 29 January 1970.

    5. See page 27, para 2.

    6. Joanne Beressi, personal communication, 30 April 2007.

    Foreword: Using an Imaginative Respect for the Hopes of Movement


    This is a book about the work of a pioneer who discovered a new way of appreciating the child's innate will to move – by watching how a child grows, explores and learns in infancy and the early years, and by comparing this early moving with how an older person, struggling with a neurological disability or autism, tries to exercise his or her will. He realized that learning how to comprehend the world depends, from the start, on how well we test it with a lively body. Learning from teachers must try to support this self-generated knowledge of being alive.

    Geoffrey Waldon was a neurologist. Clinical experience inspired him to make thoughtful observations of how young children and patients act, and especially how they choose to encounter and overcome challenges in moving in body-related time and space. What he saw led him to rethink his medical training about motor disabilities and psychiatric disorders, and to question standard educational practice, too. He devised a different way of placing himself behind the child, to support their discovery of ways of moving by gently guiding their repeated experimenting with intentions to use the world. He observed how young children transform spontaneous, non-reflex patterns of playful activity into self-created experience, mastering patterns of movement as ‘learning tools’. He called this the building of General Understanding, and concluded that this self-discovery of moving is the essential foundation for collaborating in the social learning of the artificial Particular Understanding of a family, community and culture.

    Waldon also noticed how human beings of all ages become inhibited, confused and emotionally unstable when they sense they cannot move as intended. He concluded that an acceptance of this defence of agency, and dismay, is something that teachers must take seriously if they wish to support the education and wellbeing of persons whose powers of movement are weak. He saw that a learner could be inhibited by instructive teaching.

    Like the imaginative scholars, teachers and doctors Charles Darwin, Albrecht Peiper, Jerome Bruner, Berry Brazelton, Daniel Stern and others, Waldon was watching for creativity and learning in the early, inarticulate stages of a life. He saw how an infant moves on its own to master an active body and build experience of how to use it more effectively, and more pleasurably. Every deliberate action of the naive intending self opens up new possibilities and invites new efforts, new expectations and new goals. That must be how learning leads to growth of understanding – understanding how to do, not what to do, or what to say about it. He defined universal stages of childhood self-awareness in action and the natural progress of intentions in movement, especially of the hands, and put the principles he discovered in the service of persons, young and old, who experience confusion, distress and anger because they cannot move past a given stage of ability as they wish and hope to do.

    Principles comparable to those of Waldon's method have been discovered and applied in other forms of ‘facilitated learning’ and non-verbal therapy for people with developmental disability, including autism: for example, dance and drama therapy as a creative activity, non-directive play therapy, or the interactive music therapy of Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins. But the stages of development of self-related actions and motor learning-how-to-learn-tools were demonstrated with particular clarity by Waldon, and have been adopted by practitioners in special education and child psychiatry for all ages and abilities. The realization that ‘meaning comes from movement’ has helped parents support independence in activities and emotional satisfaction in children who cannot acquire cultural skills by standard training, enabling them to become both more self-confident and more open to others. Like the method of supporting action and communication developed by Phoebe Caldwell in her work with profoundly autistic people, Waldon's approach encourages more skilful activity and more open communication by sensitively following initiatives. His ‘natural science’ of learning through movement receives support from animal and human biology, as well as from humanistic philosophy of education. It questions reductive theories of cognitive ‘information processing’ and of learning by instruction or ‘conditioning’.

    Over 100 years ago Charles Sherrington initiated modern neuro-motor physiology with his demonstration of the proprioceptive or ‘self-feeling’ integration of awareness within a moving animal. By inventive use of film in Moscow's Central Institute of Labour, Nicolai Bernstein proved in the 1920s that the actions of tool use and locomotion are coordinated and regulated in time and space by motor images generated in the brain, which employ the biomechanical properties of the limbs and whole body with rhythmical efficiency, wasting almost no energy. They must ‘perceive’ the experiences of the body, how it feels proprioceptively and how it reaches its objectives in the world, prospectively or imaginatively, not reactively. Reflex correction is too slow. With detailed kinematic analysis of films, Bernstein also studied how the energy-efficiency of a child's walking movements increases over two decades of development in body and brain; and he measured how the toddler plays with the bio-mechanical ‘degrees of freedom’ of its clever body, experimenting how to hop, pedal a tricycle, dance, etc., pushing the limits of deliberate control in gracefully risky ways.

    Animal movement is a vital adaptive principle. As Roger Sperry put it in 1939, ‘The experience of the organism is integrated, organised, and has its meaning in terms of coordinated movement.’ Similarly Karl Lashley, in a paper on the essential serial ordering of movement in speech published in 1952 concluded: ‘Analysis of the nervous mechanisms underlying order in the more primitive acts, may contribute ultimately to the resolution even of the physiology of logic.’ The vitality of the mind, and all that we know, is, as Daniel Stern has put it, ‘the child of movement’.

    So there are good grounds in motor physiology and motor psychology for believing in the imaginative creativity of movements, and on their capacity for learning new conceptions, and for making language about them. Their invention is also foundational for the development of communication and cooperative awareness or shared experience from infancy. In 1979 the anthropologist and linguist Mary Catherine Bateson, describing her research on ‘proto-conversation’ between a mother and 9-week-old infant, declared, we are suggesting that in addition to the advantages for learning given by intense attention and pleasure, the infant's participation sets the stage for learning: once he knows the “rules of the game” and can anticipate patterns, he can also deliberately and playfully vary them and he has a “handle” on what he is trying to understand. Here at the prelinguistic level we can see the child playing a “grammatical’ game”.’ She was saying that the learning of language requires creative anticipation of movement and of the goals that can be found in the world, and perception of this imaginative project in self and other is how communication with words begins.

    Waldon puzzles teachers with his claim that to assist the development of understanding, motor facilitation should be ‘asocial’. What he is guarding against is didactic and verbal interference with the free mastery of intuitive movement. Attempts to instruct natural intelligence can provoke anxiety, the fear of failing. The Waldon method requires sensitive support, by the teacher positioned to one side or behind the person who is trying new mastery of movement in the space in front of them, making pleasure from it. This principle of standing aside has been endorsed by educational reformers for centuries. John Amos Comenius, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Froebel, Lev Vygotsky, John Dewey, Rudolf Steiner, Alfred North Whitehead, Maurice Merlau-Ponty, Jerome Bruner, Paulo Freire, Loris Malaguzzi and Barbara Rogoff have all argued that the art of sympathetic and creative two-way communication is essential for ‘intent participation learning’ at every stage of teaching, from kindergarten to university. It must respect and be inspired by the initiative, enthusiasm or artful ‘zest’ of the learner. Alfred North Whitehead in his essay on The Aims of Education makes the point emphatically: ‘The paradox which wrecks so many promising theories of education is that the training which produces skill is so very apt to stifle imaginative zest. Skill demands repetition, and imaginative zest is tinged with impulse. Up to a certain point each gain in skill opens new paths for imagination. But in each individual formal training has its limits of usefulness. … The social history of mankind exhibits great organizations in their alternating functions of conditions for progress, and of contrivances for stunting humanity.’

    Geoffrey Waldon's method of assisting Functional Learning, though not intended to be emotional therapy, could offer protection for the emotions of troubled people whose spirit is weakened by a too demanding social world. At High Wick Hospital, with the supervision of patients' care by the psychiatrist George Stroh, a comprehensive programme of care, combining psychoanalytic insights with the Waldon Approach gave treatment for both heart and mind to enable patients to escape from the trap of their mental and motor disabilities. As the account by Sheila Coates of the work at the Chinnor Primary School and in the Oxfordshire Service for Autism tells us, this way of interpreting affective difficulties of people with difficulties of development had support, not only from the Freudian theory of the development of an ‘independent ego’ as transmitted to Waldon by Francis Tustin, but also from the animal biology and ethology, the natural science of behaviour. Niko Tinbergen, Professor of Animal Behaviour at Oxford, took interest in the treatment of autistic children and materially supported the work at Chinnor. Animals are adapted to engage with the environment and to cooperate socially by finding patterns of experience or ‘signs’ that allow them to anticipate the consequences of moving, and to guard against fear. Waldon's method also attempts to respect similar reactions in patients.

    In the past 50 years scientific understanding of how the mind and body grow in infancy, and how this growth is prepared for in development before birth, has been transformed. Although they know nothing of the particular world and society into which they have come, newborn infants make well-regulated actions that immediately attempt to extend conscious awareness and to form relationships with parents. From before birth, within the mother's body, a dialogue is established with the reachable world. And there is a ‘co-adaptation’ to engage with the mother's body. Thus a foetus responds to the rhythms of her life and actions, detecting and reacting to her states of pleasure or stress, even learning how to identify her from the sounds of her voice. Detailed observations of the spontaneous actions of the innocent mindful body of the newborn, have proved how rich is the natural adaptation of the human spirit for these two worlds, the self-created one and the interpersonal. The distress cries of the young child broadcast a strong defence against confusion and anxiety, appealing for support. But even a newborn is acting to discover gentle, pleasurable ways of using hands, eyes and mouth to make and use experience, smiling with satisfaction. They can provoke sharing of ‘narratives of vitality’ with an affectionate adult. We have collected evidence for this under the heading of Communicative Musicality, using detailed measures of the rhythms and melodies of proto-conversations and baby songs to show the natural talents of young infants for dialogue employing sights and sounds of human movement, acting with curiosity and sociability.

    Perhaps the most important message coming from the success of the Waldon Approach is that we have to guard against too well-made plans to shape and educate young minds. The artificial techniques and regulations of complex social institutions to ‘care for’ them can stunt the creative spirit of the child, as Rene Spitz and John Bowlby proved by their studies of the crippling distress of hospitalized infants and institutionalized orphans. This changed paediatric practice. Beyond needs for food, care and comfort there are needs for shared creativity or companionship – for attachment and common understanding in our actions.

    What holds a human body and mind together is self-made imagination of movement, with feeling. We communicate our motives and feelings by how we move – by signalling what Stern calls ‘vitality dynamics’, and by exhibiting a ‘seeking’ for understanding with ‘emotional consciousness’, as described by Jaak Panksepp. That, too, is an important message of the Waldon Approach.

    Further Reading
    Bj0rkvold, J.-R. (1992). The Muse Within: Creativity and Communication, Song and Play From Childhood Through Maturity. New York: Harper Collins.
    Daniel, S. (2008). The therapeutic needs of children with autism: a framework for partners in non-directive play. Brit. J. Play Therapy, 4, 18–34.
    Frank, B. and Trevarthen, C. (2012). Intuitive meaning: Supporting impulses for interpersonal life in the sociosphere of human knowledge, practice and language. In AdFoolen, UlrikeLudtke, JordanZlatev and TimRacine (eds) Moving Ourselves, Moving Others: The Role of (E)Motion For Intersubjectivity, Consciousness and Language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
    Malloch, S. and Trevarthen, C. (eds) Communicative Musicality: Exploring the Basis of Human Companionship. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Panksepp, J. (2004). Affective consciousness and the origins of human mind: A critical role of brain research on animal emotions. Impulse, 3: 47–60.
    Stern, D. N. (2010). Forms of Vitality: Exploring Dynamic Experience in Psychology, the Arts, Psychotherapy and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    Trevarthen, C. (2012). Born for art, and the joyful companionship of fiction D.Narvaez, J.Panksepp, A.Schore, and T.Gleason (eds.) Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development: From Research to Practice and Policy. New York: Oxford University Press. Expected mid 2012.
    Trevarthen, C. (2000). Autism as a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting communication and learning in early childhood: prenatal origins, post-natal course and effective educational support. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, 63, (1–2), July 2000, 41–46.
    Trevarthen, C. (2005). Stepping away from the mirror: Pride and shame in adventures of companionship. Reflections on the nature and emotional needs of infant intersubjectivity. In C.S.Carter, L.Ahnert, K. E.Grossman, S. B.Hrdy, M. E.Lamb, S. W.Porges, and N.Sachser (eds). Attachment and Bonding: A New Synthesis. Dahlem Workshop Report 92. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. pp. 55–84.
    Trevarthen, C. (2012). Epilogue: Natural Sources of Meaning In Human Sympathetic Vitality. In Moving Ourselves, Moving Others: The Role of (E)motion for Intersubjectivity, Consciousness and Language. Edited by AdFoolen, UlrikeLudtke, JordanZlatev and TimRacine. Consciousness and Emotion Series, Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
    Trevarthen, C., Aitken, K. J., Vandekerckhove, M., Delafield-Butt, J. and Nagy, E. (2006). Collaborative regulations of vitality in early childhood: Stress in intimate relationships and postnatal psychopathology. In D.Cicchetti and D. J.Cohen (eds) Developmental Psychopathology, Volume 2 Developmental Neuroscience,
    Second Edition
    . New York: Wileys. Chapter 2, pp. 65–126.
    Zeedyk, S. (Ed.) (2008). Promoting Social Interaction For Individuals With Communication Impairments. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.
    ColwynTrevarthen, FRSE, Professor (Emeritus) of Child Psychology and Psychobiology, The University of Edinburgh, 8 February 2012
  • End Notes

    Chapter 1: Early Days 1968–1972

    1 Hannah and Bruce were close friends and this was one home where we were always welcome. Bruce asked me to use assumed names.

    2 After Pamela, Robert's mother, died in May 2006 our daughter Debbie found some part typed, part handwritten notes which were intended to be the beginning of a book she would write. Debbie as her mother's executor has kindly given me permission to use them, which I have done in their entirety.

    3 Assumed name.

    4 Dr Michael Casson was our GP and unfailingly supportive and caring. Although most of the medical professionals are referred to by their professional position Michael's widow and son have kindly allowed me to use his name.

    5 Clinical note by Dr Casson: ‘Mother worried because she thinks child may be deaf, but can hear sounds quite well but does not respond to human voice. Is not emotionally responsive to people. Possibly autistic. 9 May 2009’.

    6 Extract of letter from Professor to Dr M.A. Casson, 12 June 1969. With the exception of Dr Casson, medical professionals referred to are anonymous.

    7 Extract from the Psychological Report of the Lecturer in Educational Psychology, 26 June 1969.

    8 Dr Casson, clinical note, 30 June 1969.

    9 Extract from Progress Report from Consultant Paediatrician, 17 November 1969.

    10 Report by Consultant Paediatrician, 22 December 1969.

    11 Rodney House School is an early years’ assessment provision. Children are admitted to the school because there is some concern about their development and a possibility that they may have special educational needs. At that time it was associated with The Duchess of York Hospital for Babies.

    12 Dr Casson, clinical note, 15 December 1969.

    13 Extract from Psychological Report, 29 January 1970.

    14 Dr Geoffrey Waldon, Progress Notes, 25 June 1969 to 26 October 1970.

    15 Extract from a letter from the Consultant Neurologist to Consultant Paediatrician, 30 January 1970.

    16 Letter from Consultant Neurologist to Dr Michael Casson, 6 February 1970.

    17 Dr Geoffrey Waldon, Progress Notes.

    18 Conversation with Bruce and Janet, 19 May 2010.

    19 Conversation with Gillian, 11 July 2010.

    20 Conversation with Hilary, 10 February 2010.

    21 Conversation with Valerie, 16 January 2011.

    22 Conversation with Ella and Stephen, 20 May 2010.

    23 Conversation with Heather, 9 February 2010, and letter 27 May 2011.

    Chapter 2: School Years 1972–1987

    1 Extract of letter from Paediatric Neurologist to Dr Michael Casson, 9 June 1972.

    2 Interview with Sheila Bernstein, 18 June 2010.

    3 Memo from Day Nursery, unsigned, undated.

    4 Letter from Senior Educational Psychologist, Education Department, Cheshire County Council to us, 18 July 1973.

    5 Letter from Head Teacher, Primary School, Cheshire Education Authority.

    6 Interview with Joanne Beressi, 30 April 2007.

    7 Private School Report, Autumn Term, 1975.

    8 Private School Report, Summer Term, 1977.

    9 Private undated special report.

    10 Private School Report, Autumn Term, 1977.

    11 Private School Report, Spring Term, 1978.

    12 Grammar School Report, Autumn Term, 1979.

    13 Grammar School Report, Summer Term, 1980.

    14 Axline, Virginia M., Dibs – In Search of Self, Penguin Books, USA, 1964.

    15 The Tavistock Clinic is a leading centre for psychoanalysis and psychotherapy situated close to Sigmund Freud's home in London. A seated statue of Freud is outside the entrance.

    16 Tustin, Frances, Autistic States in Children, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981, pp. 209–236.

    17 Spensley, Sheila, Frances Tustin, Routledge series: ‘Makers of Modern Psychotherapy’, 1995, pp. 73–88.

    18 Chris Holland, personal communication, 2010.

    19 Tustin, Frances, ‘Brief Glimpses of Dr. Geoffrey Waldon’, Koine, 2 (3), The Waldon Association, June 1992.

    20 Anne Alvarez, personal communication with Richard Brooks, 15 October 2009, confirmed by Anne Alvarez in personal communication, 31 March 2010.

    21 A Barmitzvah is a Jewish coming of religious age ceremony for boys.

    22 Letter from Geoffrey Waldon to the Progressive School Director, August 1980.

    23 This is the first of a series of interviews with Robert in August 2009 when he and Yelena visited me in France and again in November 2009 when I visited them in Baltimore. This reference covers all of Robert and Yelena's conversations with me relating to this book.

    24 A yarmulke is a skull cap worn by religious Jews.

    25 A compilation from various reports from the next school, Washington DC.

    26 Maths teacher report for New England Boarding School, 16 June 1982.

    Chapter 3: College Years, UK and Israel 1987–1998

    1 Students are selected for the Dean's List in recognition of superior scholastic performance.

    2 Debbie was at Brown University, Rhode Island at the time.

    3 se.ed is a Jewish adult education programme.

    4 A Yeshiva is a Jewish Rabbinical College and Or Sameach in Jerusalem is a Yeshiva which is specifically organized for non-religious Jews, or those who have not come from a strong orthodox background, to begin their studies.

    5 Tzaddick means a righteous one. Here Robert is using a more common translation, meaning to be wise.

    6 Simcha means gladness or joy.

    7 Letter from Professor Bodenheimer to the author, 15 May 1994.

    Chapter 4: Work and Marriage 1998–2011

    1 Personal communication, 11 June 2011.

    2 Personal communication, Rabbi Diskind, 11 June 2011.

    3 Winnicott, D.W., The Family and Individual Development. London/New York: Tavistock/Routledge, 1965.

    4 Spensley, Sheila, Frances Tustin, p. 86.

    Chapter 5: The Waldon Theory of Child Development and the Waldon Approach

    1 Jonas Torrance who co-ordinates the therapy team in the Oxfordshire Service for Autism gave me an interesting interview about movement theory and how movement can be broken down into time, space, weight and flow and how specific rhythms arise in repetitive work (17 March 2010).

    2 I have used the words child(ren)/student(s) and teacher/facilitator interchangeably and they will have the same meaning in this context.

    3 Waldon, Geoffrey: ‘A Personal Note’ – Preface to the Processes of Sorting and Matching, The Centre for Learning to Learn More Effectively, 1985.

    4 Maxine Sheets-Johnstone was a professor of dance for a number of years prior to her professorship in philosophy at the University of Oregon.

    5 Rudolf Laban (1879–1958) was a dancer, a choreographer and a dance/ movement theoretician.

    6 Milne, A.A., Winnie The Pooh, Methuen: London, 1926.

    7 Pennyhooks is an organic farm in Wiltshire that runs courses for young people with autism spectrum disorder. The farm manager, Lydia Otter, previously a special needs teacher, was trained in the Waldon Approach.

    8 John Bowlby in The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds (1989: 87) also used the differentiation of primary and secondary impediments, albeit with a slightly different emphasis.

    9 Chris Holland, personal communication, 2010.

    10 Before a lesson can start the student must be sitting expectantly in a chair of the appropriate size at the uncluttered table.

    11 The mother of Dan from Chapter 7 wrote this mother's-eye view.

    12 The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

    13 The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

    14 Personal communication, 2010.

    15 Chris Holland, personal communication, 2010.

    16 Chris Holland, personal communication, 2010.

    17 Katrin Stroh, personal communication, 2011.

    Chapter 6: Centres Influenced by Geoffrey Waldon

    1 Ann Clark, personal communication, 24 June 2009.

    2 Interview with Terry Buchan, Marilyn Crook, Eileen Armstrong, Ann Clark and Pat Brown, who were teachers at Meanwood Hospital in Leeds and subsequently at the Leeds Waldon Centre, 24 June 2009.

    3 Meanwood Park Hospital was a residential institution for people then called ‘mentally handicapped’. It contained a ‘special school’ within its grounds which closed in 1989.

    4 Interview with Sheila Coates, 22 October 2009.

    5 Tinbergen, Nikolaas, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1973.

    6 Tinbergen, Nikolaas, The Herring Gull's World, Collins, 1953.

    7 Interview with Jenny Wager, 24 May 2010.

    8 Interview with Sue Saville, 17 March 2010.

    9 Interview with Alan Proctor, 7 February 2010.

    10 Functional Learning was the name chosen by Dr George Stroh to describe the Waldon Approach. I have used whichever name is used by the institution I am describing. As Alan Proctor said: ‘If you see any of us giving a lesson under the name Functional Learning it will look identical to a lesson under the Waldon Approach’.

    11 Chris Holland, personal communication, 2011. In one conversation with Geoffrey I could not help saying: ‘What you have described is just what Winnicott would have called a transitional object’. Geoffrey was confused as he had come at the same understanding of child development from such a completely different direction – except that both Waldon and Winnicott had spent years very carefully studying children.

    12 Interview with Dr Breda Sustersic, 1 April 2011.

    13 Author's note. It seems to me that the Waldon Approach, indeed the whole Waldon philosophy, would be a useful method in the teaching of deaf, especially profoundly deaf, children. The emphasis on movement and the de-emphasis on speech make it the ideal vehicle for the development of understanding in the hearing impaired.

    14 Interview with Anamarija Filipie Dolniear, 1 April 2011. Anamarija was responsible for the introduction of Functional Learning into Slovenia.

    15 Interview with Irena Roblek and Anuska Kovac, 4 April 2011.

    16 Jiri Berger, The Waldon Approach to Educating Developmentally Backward Children: A Feasibility Study Within a School Setting. Final Report, November 1985, unpublished.

    Chapter 7: Case Studies of Children on the Autistic Spectrum

    1 Interview with Edward's father, 19 October 2009.

    2 Interview with Edward's mother, 9 October 2010.

    3 Interview with Peter's parents, 22 May 2010. Subsequently revised by Peter's father.

    4 Interview with Peter (in the presence of his parents), 29 May 2010.

    5 Email from Dan's father (from Australia), 20 October 2009.

    6 Interview with Christopher's mother, 10 September 2010.

    7 Pat was a teacher who worked at the Waldon Centre in Manchester.

    8 Interview with Barbara Somen, Marko's Functional Learning therapist, 5 September 2011.

    9 Interview with Anamarija, Kaspar's Functional Learning therapist and later with his parents, 3 and 6 September 2011.

    10 Interview with Michael's parents and sister, 21 May 2010.

    11 The Newsom Report (1963) Half our Future. A Report of the Central Advisory Council for England. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

    Chapter 8: Not Only for Autism – More Case Studies

    1 Interview with Larry, 15 September 2010, followed by a discussion with his parents who arrived later.

    2 Interview with Freddie's father, 26 June 2009.

    3 Interview with Freddie's mother, 22 March 2010.

    4 Interview with Roy's father, 23 March 2010.

    5 Interview with Elinor's father, 13 October 2009.

    6 Interview with Abigail's parents, 23 May 2010, Abigail was present.

    7 Interview with Bodhi's mother, 23 March 2010.

    8 Interview with Carol Parrey, 24 May 2010.

    9 Interview with Judi Stacpoole, 25 May 2010.

    10 Interview with Vera's parents, 5 April 2011.

    11 Interview with Anamarija, Bogdan's Functional Learning therapist, and his mother, 5 April 2011.

    Chapter 9: Functional Reading: A Special Orientation of the Approach

    1 Geoffrey Waldon gave weekend workshops on Functional Reading in Leeds and in Oxfordshire during 1987. This chapter is based on the notes, memory and practical teaching experience of Mary Jo Middleton who attended these workshops.

    2 Waldon used the terms definer and director for verbs and nouns.

    3 Interview with Mary Jo Middleton, Edward's Waldon teacher, 10 October 2010, subsequently expanded by Mary Jo.


    There is an immense bibliography on the subject of autism so this is a personal selection of the books on my bookshelf which I have found interesting and/ or useful.

    Books on Autism
    Acquerone, Stella (2007) Signs of Autism in Infants: Recognition and Early Intervention. London: Karnak Books.
    Alvarez, Anne (2002) Live Company: Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy with Autistic, Borderline, Deprived and Abused Children. London: Routledge London.
    Alvarez, Anne and Reid, Susan (1999) Autism and Personality: Findings from the Tavistock Autism Workshop. London: Routledge.
    Anderson, Margaret (2007) Tales from the Table: ABA Intervention with Children on the Autistic Spectrum. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
    Asperger, H. (1994) ‘Die “Autistischen Psychopathen” im Kindersalter’, Archiv für Psychiatrie and Nervenkrankheiten, 117: 76–136.
    Aston, Maxine (2003) Aspergers in Love: Couple Relationships and Family Affairs. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
    Axline, Virginia M. (1964) Dibs: in Search of Self. New York: Ballantine Books.
    Baron-Cohen, Simon (1995) Mindblindness: an Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.
    Baron-Cohen, Simon (2003) The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth about Autism. New York: Basic Books.
    Catalano, Robert A. (1998) When Autism Strikes: Families Cope with Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. New York: Plenum Press.
    Collins, Paul (2004) Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism. London: Fusion Press.
    Fein, Deborah and Dunn, Michelle (2007) Autism in Your Classroom, A General Educator's Guide to Students with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Bethesda: Woodbine House.
    Feinstein, Adam (2010) A History of Autism: Conversations with the Pioneers. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
    Frith, Utta (2003) Autism: Explaining the Enigma,
    2nd edn.
    Malden, MA: Blackwell.
    Gallese, V. and Lakoff, G. (2005) The brain's concepts: the role of the sensori-motor system in conceptual knowledge. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 21: 1–25.
    Gillberg, Christopher (2002) A Guide to Asperger Syndrome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    Greenspan, Stanley I. and Wieder, Serena (2006) Engaging Autism: Using the Floortime Approach to Help Children Relate, Communicate, and Think. New York: Perseus Books.
    Hamilton, Lynn M. (2000) Facing Autism: Giving Parents Reasons for Hope and Guidance for Help. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press.
    Harris, S.L. and Weiss, M.J. (2007) Right from the Start: Behavioural Intervention for Young Children with Autism,
    2nd edn.
    Bethesda: Woodbine House.
    Janert, Sibylle (2000) Reaching the Young Autistic Child: Reclaiming Non-autistic Potential Through Communicative Strategies and Games. London: Free Association Books.
    Keenan, M., Kerr, K.P. and Dillenburger, K. (2000) Parents’ Education as Autism Therapists: Applied Behavioural Analysis in Context. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
    Lytel, Jayne (2008) Act Early Against Autism: Give Your Child a Fighting Chance from the Start. New York: Penguin Books.
    Maurice, Catherine (1993) Let Me Hear Your Voice: A Family's Triumph Over Autism. London: Robert Hale.
    Nazeer, Kamran (2006) Send In the Idiots: Stories from the Other Side of Autism. London: Bloomsbury.
    McCandless, Jaquelyn (2003) Children with Starving Brains: A Medical Treatment Guide for Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Putney, VT: Bramble Books.
    McCarthy, Jenny (2007) Louder than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism. New York: Penguin Books.
    Richman, Shira (2001) Raising a Child with Autism: A Guide to Applied Behaviour Analysis for Parents. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
    Seroussi, Karyn (2002) Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder: A Mother's Story of Research and Recovery. New York: Broadway Books.
    Siegel, Bryna (2003) Helping Children with Autism Learn: Treatment Approaches for Parents and Professionals. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
    Spensley, Sheila (1995) Frances Tustin. Makers of Modern Psychotherapy Series. London: Routledge.
    Tinbergen, N. and Tinbergen, E.A. (1983) Autistic Children: New Hope for a Cure. London: George Allen and Unwin.
    Tordjman, S., Ferrari, P., Sulmont, V., Duyme, M. and Roubertoux, P. (1977) Androgenic activity in autism. American Journal of Psychiatry, 154: 1626–7.
    Trevarthen, C., Aitken, A., Papoudi, D. and Robarts, J. (1998) Children with Autism: Diagnosis and Interventions to Meet Their Needs,
    2nd edn.
    London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
    Tustin, Frances (1981) Autistic States in Children. London, Boston and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
    Tustin, Frances (1986) Autistic Barriers in Neurotic Patients. Newhaven and London: Yale University Press.
    Williams, Donna (1996) Nobody Nowhere: The Remarkable Autobiography of an Autistic Girl,
    revised edn.
    London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
    Wing, Lorna (1996) The Autistic Spectrum: A Guide for Parents and Professionals,
    new updated edn.
    London: Constable and Robinson.
    Books on Child Development
    Bowlby, John (2005) The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds. New York: Routledge. (First published 1979.)
    Forbes, Ruth (2004) Beginning to Play: Young Children from Birth to Three. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
    Gerhardt, Sue (2004) Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby's Brain. Hove and New York: Routledge.
    Hegarty, S. and Alur, M. (2002) Education and Children with Special Needs, From Segregation to Inclusion. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
    Roberts, Rosemary (2010) Wellbeing from Birth. London: Sage Publications.
    Stroh, Katrin, Robinson, Thelma and Proctor, Alan (2008) Every Child Can Learn: Using Learning Tools and Play to Help Children with Developmental Delay. London: Sage Publications.
    Waldon, Geoffrey (1980) Understanding UNDERSTANDING: An Introduction to a Personal View of the Education Needs of Children. The Centre for Educating Handicapped Children at Home. (Slightly revised 1985). Available at:
    Waldon, Geoffrey (1985) The Processes of Sorting and Matching: As Mental Operations Generating New Experience in Child Development. The Centre for Learning to Learn More Effectively. Available at:
    Weiss, Lawrence G., Oakland, Thomas and Aylward, Glen (2010) Bayley-III: Clinical Use and Interpretation. Burlington, MA: Academic Press.
    Whitfield, Graeme and Davidson, Alan (2007) Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Explained. Oxford and New York: Radcliffe Publishing.
    Books on Neuroscience and Movement
    Begley, Sharon (2007) The Plastic Mind: New Science Reveals our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves. New York: Balantine Books.
    Doidge, Norman (2007) The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. New York: Penguin Books.
    Greenfield, Susan (2000) The Private Life of the Brain. London: The Penguin Press.
    McGilchrist, Iain (2009) The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Newhaven CT and London: Yale University Press.
    Ramachandran, V.S. (2003) The Emerging Mind: The Reith Lectures 2003. London: Profile Books.
    Ramachandran, V.S. (2004) A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Imposter Poodles to Purple Numbers. New York: Pearson Education.
    Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine (2009) The Corporeal Turn: An Interdisciplinary Reader. Exeter, UK and Charlottesville, VA, USA: Imprint Academic.
    Stern, Daniel N. (2010) Forms of Vitality: Exploring Dynamic Experience in Psychology, the Arts, Psychotherapy and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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