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"Autism can not be cured, but one can climb a step higher"

How does the informal society of helping autistics "Little Prince" work in Vladivostok

Elena Pinchuk, the teenage mother with autism, three years ago founded in Vladivostok an informal society for helping autistics "The Little Prince". Here, small and adult children are taught to trust the world, live among people and discover their creative potential. Elena Pinchuk told EastRussia how the classes are going and what successes children reach with autism.

"Autism can not be cured, but one can climb a step higher"
Photo: courtesy of Elena Pinchuk
- Elena, why do you call your society informal? 
- There are several versions associated with this. For example, some think that the society is informal, because it is not legally formalized. There is another opinion that we are just going with moms, drinking tea and talking with heart. In fact, when I decided to rent a room, the goal was really just to communicate, because even relatives often do not understand, and among their own feel that they are not alone, there is support. Now the project has developed very much, but he remained primarily creative, and his parents began, who in their youth were the most real informals - hippies and punks, therefore it is rightly called informal. 
- More than three years, "Little Prince" several times changed the wording of his name. Who are you now - a club, a society, a psychological center, a studio for dance-motor therapy and sensory development? 
- Now we are an informal society for helping autistics "Little Prince", a representative of the St. Petersburg school of dance therapy and circus pedagogy for children and adolescents with RAS (autistic spectrum disorders). As a method of circus pedagogy can help children with developmental features, I learned at the master class that was held in Vladivostok by the ANU "Uppsala Circus". Then I went to St. Petersburg to study at the dance-motor therapist at the Institute of Practical Psychology "Imaton" and went to the training at the Uppsala-Circus in parallel. Returning home, she began to practice methods with children, which in Moscow and St. Petersburg are recognized and widely used. In general, an integrative circus around the world is considered an effective method of working with autistic children, in particular, it is a serious work on the human sensory system, not counting of course the psychological aspect. 
We plan to remove the word "autism" from the name when registering the company: we will have an informal creative association "Little Prince". We do not need restrictions in the form of specifying a particular category, because after all the project is creative. And we think with parents that when our children are called autistics, it is better, it would be more correct to say "children with autism." After all, autism is just a collection of some manifestations, not something that is all-encompassing and all-consuming. Our children, like everyone else, want to communicate, be beautiful, fashionable, cool, but they still have autism. 
- What age children do you go to? And are there any restrictions on the severity of the condition? 
- We mainly focus on adolescents, and on children with a complex form of autism - Kanner syndrome. For me, as a project manager, it is very important that all children with severe disabilities go through puberty without loss. But in general, we have no hard limits. Now in the “Little Prince” 27 participants: the youngest 3 of the year, and we have recently married the older ones. I note that they have different diagnoses - there are children with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, schizophrenia, but for me it is absolutely unimportant. When a child arrives, I observe him during the first few lessons, note problems and draw up an individual work plan. Each child has a personal program, he goes only to those classes that he needs.
- What are these classes and how are they useful? 
- Classes with children are held every day, except Monday (all free of charge). On Mondays, a special psychologist works individually with parents. Now there are about ten directions. The main of them - "Rosa Exupery" - is a dance and movement therapy and a circus, which is divided into the circus direction itself and the theatrical circus. The dance movement direction is divided into three levels in accordance with the method of replacement ontogenesis. There is a theory in neuropsychology about three functional blocks of the brain, and in every class we strive to use everything. But at a certain stage of the child's development, some block should be given a stronger load.
Children with autism do not feel their body well, and, accordingly, it is difficult for them to control them: they go around in circles and do not fit at the request, because they seem to take them to the other side, even if they do not want it. It is very important to remove psychoemotional tension, develop voluntary self-regulation, and form self-consciousness. Many do not separate themselves from the environment: you tell one child to go - another goes, does not understand that they do not address him.
- What do guys do in circus classes?
- We teach children to perform exercises with different equipment, mainly working with the balance. Children stand on the ball, some can already go on it, walk on the slack, on stilts, stand on the balance-board and so on. To stand on a circus ball for a child means to overcome fear, to feel the acuteness of the sensation, it gives an adrenaline rush, raises self-esteem. Such feelings and emotions must be experienced by adolescents; in the puberty period the child has a huge amount of energy, so he can begin to behave aggressively. Parents often see nothing in this behavior except psychiatry, but in fact it is necessary to channel the energy of the child in the right direction, to create conditions for it. 
Circus directions such as juggling, walking on stilts, jumpers, slackline are now popular with young people. And our guys feel cool, they are not inferior to their peers. And from the point of view of neurology, balancing act - in its pure form, cerebellar stimulation, popular in working with children with autism around the world. In a sense, it is an alternative to drug treatment, but, unlike drugs, it is safe and has no side effects. Such exercises perfectly develop the child's sensory system, this work with the vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile systems. The results are very good: my son Alex began to read in 12 years, when everyone already said that he could never learn it, and in 9 years, the first words began to speak, although at that age there was not so much hope. 
I have always been attracted to the romance of the tent, real circus art close to me in spirit. This is the happy occasion when my tastes and preferences coincided with the interests of children. Our favorite direction is “Lis Exupery” - a theater studio where children learn acting skills. On the birthday of the community, we organized, among other things, a puppet show. 
Most importantly, in the classroom, children develop adaptive abilities: this is the ability to quickly get used to the new environment, to hear people around them, to overcome their fears, a lot of work is aimed at developing self-regulation. Most recently, we performed for the first time at the regional theater festival. Just imagine: our children got into a dark room, where bright lights were shining, loud fanfare sounded, but they were not afraid. We performed well, they are no longer confused by the new place and people. There's a lot of work behind this. 
- Why do children work with their parents? 
- Because it is very important that parents believe in their child. If after class he returns to the destructive environment of the family, we will not help him. Many parents are fixated on the result, in our case this does not do good. In the little-known prayer of Exupery, there are wonderful words: "Lord, teach me the art of small steps." We teach parents to understand their children in the special direction "Sharp heart only". The main thing that you need to realize is: autism can not be cured, but you can climb a step higher, and maybe even two. 
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