Why is life more about awareness?


Consciousness is the key to life (Damasio)

"Consciousness is indeed the key to life - whether we like it or not - our license to experience everything that goes on within us - the hunger and thirst, the sexuality, the tears, the laughter, the highs and lows, the stream of imagination we call thinking, the feelings, the words, the stories, the beliefs, the music and the poetry, the happiness and the exuberance. At its simplest and most basic level, consciousness gives us the irresistible urge to stay alive and develop an interest in self. At a very high and complex level, awareness helps us develop interest in the self of others and refine the art of living. "[1]

When I read Damasio's book "I feel, therefore I am", I understood for the first time how I came to be aware of myself. I want to evaluate my personal experiences in order to be able to advise other people who want to support a brain-damaged or autistic person.

What is important when starting to support a child with a disability?

Right from the start, it's about building awareness. This includes perceiving one's own body and that of others with its individual limbs and features and continues with the conscious perception of objects and people in the home environment. All objects must create an image in the brain and be accessible to memory.

When I look at my own learning history, as far as I can remember it, then I realize the importance of learning what belonged to my body and what was outside of me. I have faint memories of sitting in the bathtub with my brother two years older than me. It was a tangle of legs and I probably couldn't tell what my legs were from what my brother's legs were.

I learned to differentiate between what belonged to my body, i.e. to me, and what belonged to my brother's body. I also learned the names for my body parts, but couldn't pronounce them. Then I was told to touch my body parts. I found that difficult. But I also had to touch body parts on my doll or learned to differentiate between my and my mother's nose. In retrospect, it all seems very reasonable to me. I know from reports from my mother how difficult it was for me to respond appropriately to prompts. If my hand or arm wasn't touched, I had no idea what to do, even after I knew where the part of the body was. My arm just wouldn't move.

If the child is to develop an awareness of himself, he must also learn how he relates to people and objects in his environment. And by the environment I mean not only the home environment, but also the neighborly relationships, if they play a role in the child's family. After learning to walk when I was more than three years old, I ran around the neighborhood with my mother for hours, broke into other people's gardens, which fortunately was allowed, climbed around on strange stairs and learned what kind of people lived there. The names of the people I saw often were memorized, especially the names of the children who ran around and played. In the course of time, I not only knew my way around our house, but also in the near and far neighborhood. In this way my field of vision was constantly expanded and I got a feeling for who I was and where I belonged and who the others I observed were without making active contact with them. I think that all of this was of great importance for my further development.

Actually, I can only really judge now what everything was offered to me as a child to compensate for my serious development deficit. I find it fascinating to read what my mother did so that I could develop into a person who is aware of himself. Because it succeeded. I've developed a sense of self over the years. I experience myself as an independent person with my own will, my own feelings and the ability to perceive the feelings and thoughts of others. The theory of mind problem [2], which should exist in many autistic people, I do not have. My shortcoming is that I can only partially implement my wishes and ideas. I had to come to terms with this handicap and I am unsure whether this development could have been prevented. There was probably no way. Why should I have been motivated in many areas and not in action? I can safely rule out that I refused to do anything. I could learn some things, but not others. I've never had the experience of doing exactly what others are doing. I was never able to try to adjust myself to others. I could only do something with another person, like throwing a ball. That would never have been possible in a team. The moving people and the moving ball would have unsettled me and made me unable to act.

So my self-confidence has limitations. I experience myself as an individual, rarely as part of a structure.

I think about what and how autistic people can learn and whether one should pursue the goal of integrating someone into a community in such a way that they actively participate in all group activities. I mean that you have to make concessions and you can't help but accept that an autistic person leads a life of their own alongside the group.

Forced integration is a pseudo-solution, because inside the autistic person remains a loner and is not necessarily unhappy.

I was always satisfied when I was allowed to watch what was happening from a distance instead of being forced to participate.

Conclusion from this consideration of my own development towards a self-confident person:

  • The child must be familiarized with their own body and the immediate environment as early as possible.

  • Then one must try to gradually widen the horizon,

  • which includes getting to know other people from your personal environment.

  • Finally, ways should be found to make the child understand what they are feeling.

  • Later on, he or she may learn to understand what is going on in other people.

This can be a lengthy learning process that extends into adulthood. One should not stifle such an expansion of consciousness too early with the knowledge that autistic people cannot empathize with others. It may be that the boundaries are tight for some people. But who can say exactly whether you can learn something like this after all, if the learning opportunities are appropriate.

Any promotion must start with the body

With today's knowledge and experience, I could rewrite my own learning history. But unfortunately there is only one learning history for a person that cannot be reversed. I also don't really know whether my life could have turned out differently if my sponsorship had set other priorities.

I would like to establish the principle:

Any meaningful support must start with the body.

This also means that every learning story begins with one's own body being experienced. If elementary body experiences are not spontaneously possible at all, then you have to force them with appropriate measures.

When I think back to my early childhood, I realize that I felt my body very badly and had great difficulty, for example, differentiating front and back. That is why it was necessary to repeatedly call my body parts into consciousness.

For example, I sat across from my mother and she asked me: "Touch your nose!" "Put your right hand on your head!" "Touch your ears!" "Stamp your feet!" I couldn't do all of this for a long time. First you had to guide my hand, then push my arm. So I gradually learned. It was never enough to just tell myself what to do. I couldn't imitate.

I learned the names for my body regions. Eventually I was able to name the parts of the body, but I couldn't feel them. I only realized that much later.

From my experience it can be concluded that one must carefully check whether the child or how far it can feel its own body. This is an important prerequisite for carrying out activities. If I can't feel my arm, I won't be able to start it.

So what should you practice:

  • Make the body schema aware again and again by massaging, applying pressure, working the body with a hedgehog ball.

  • Use a vibration massager after checking that the child is comfortable with the vibration.

  • Brush the body in the bathtub or rub it with a rough cloth.

  • Practice the names for the different parts of the body.

  • Examine the body of a doll and identify and name body parts.

  • Tap the joints.

  • Finger Exercises: Build tension in one finger by pressing the finger against another person's finger.

  • Work with modeling clay. Always make sure that pressure is applied.

  • Stamp and jump with your feet. You can feel your feet.

  • Massage your feet, even if your toes are hypersensitive at first.

  • Walking barefoot in the sand.

  • Push off the wall with your feet.

  • Fighting games in which the body can be gripped tightly.

  • Pushing each other away with your body.

Stanley I. Greenspan shows in his book "The Intelligence Threatened. The Importance of Emotions for Our Mental Development"[3] on how cognition and emotion are related and what significance the emotions have for the child's cognitive development. He vividly describes how the young child is emotionally involved in everything he learns. An object that does not evoke emotion arouses interest. In his opinion, it was a fall from man that in philosophy, beginning with the ancient Greeks, ratio and feeling were viewed as separate areas (SI Greenspan, op. Cit., P. 14) and that in the course of history that which had to do with feelings had been devalued.

Damasio also refutes the old dualism of feeling and understanding in his book. For him, emotions are the basic requirement for the development of consciousness. For him, emotions are the reactions that can be observed. He describes the private experiences of emotions as feelings. He understands consciousness as "the knowledge that an organism has of itself and its environment." (Damasio, op. Cit., P. 57) If, however, physical sensations are as important for consciousness as Damasio assumes, then one must rightly assume that people whose physical sensations are disturbed or not present at all have significant impairments have to cope with. (Damasio, op. Cit., P. 17)

I can only confirm that emotion and cognition had to work together for me if I wanted or should learn something.

When I think back and consider exactly how and under what circumstances I had learning successes, it becomes clear to me that whenever my feelings were addressed, I became open to a lot. That was z. B. So with all exercises in which my attention should be reached through music or poetry. But it was also the games with hand puppets and playing with a large puppet that was used as a friend that set the learning process in motion. It is difficult to assess what brought me further, Lovaas' developmental therapy[4] or the creative doll games that my mother made up. Maybe both were necessary. I think that you can use different therapeutic approaches side by side. My mother did and was successful despite not having received any therapeutic training.

I keep assuming that I've learned a lot about feeling. Because I found the radish picture stories funny, I was able to understand and verbalize them well. If I found something funny, then I was open-minded and could remember something well. The same thing happened to me when I was touched, when I found something sad. It clearly shows that I could learn when my feelings were involved. If z. For example, if the hand puppets said funny things, then I was wide awake. Today, if I am to be guessing what to do with an autistic child, I strongly recommend puppet shows like the ones we did. Methodologically, that may not be so well justified, but since the feelings are addressed, something moves. I learned the subtleties of the language in these games. I don't know how you can learn it any other way if you don't talk to people.

How I was made to express feelings

A doll as a friend

For my fifth birthday I got a large rag doll, which I named Annika. That doll is still around. It looks a little battered now, but nobody dares to throw it away. I want to keep the doll because I learned a lot from using this doll. She replaced me with playmates because she could speak, i.e. H. my mother gave her her voice. Maybe sometimes I have forgotten that Annika was a doll. Everything went like it did in real life, except that I had more time to react. I was very slow to react and when I spoke my voice was extremely thin. I paused after every word that I laboriously forced out. Now when I read what my mother had recorded, I was very astonished. In the end, was I able to speak better than I can now? It could be. I hadn't given up hope of learning to speak properly yet. I don't think my mom didn't properly record what I said. My memory goes back so far that I can assess what I was able to do. I learned an extraordinary amount during that time. I realize this when I read the conversations recorded by my mother; but I also see how I was lured out of reserve. I couldn't help but let myself be tempted. There were situations in which my feelings were heavily involved.

I am becoming more and more aware of how important it is for learning that emotions are addressed.

If you take a close look at the conversations my mother recorded, you can clearly feel my mother's intention. She wanted to find out what was going on in me, what I was feeling, what was oppressing me. She wanted to understand why I reacted, how I reacted, or why I sometimes showed no reaction at all. I suspect that she wasn't even aware of what was being promoted. After all, they were spontaneous actions and by no means a therapy that followed a certain concept. If I think about it correctly, such spontaneous ideas resonated best with me. They brought more to Lovaas than the structured exercises, even if they were of course useful and necessary. I learned best when my feelings were addressed. As far as I know, I have rarely resisted the puppet shows.

I have thought intensively about the way in which cognition and emotions interact or exclude each other in me. I can only put it in a very simplified way, because I don't know exactly what is going on in the brain and how when emotions rule me or when emotions are switched off and only the intellect is working.

I have observed that I always first perceive and process the emotions of my counterpart. As a second step, I record and process a factual message or a task.

At school I was first interested in what a teacher expressed through his posture and facial expressions. When I was clear about this, I could listen to what he said and think along when tasks were set. That had consequences for my way of learning. I learned best when I was alone, without a teacher. The distance learning course suited my peculiarities very much. I wasn't distracted by someone whose mood I had to decipher first. Everyone sends a lot of messages. Many people will partially ignore these messages, perhaps have no sense of them at all.

I cannot overlook the messages that people convey non-verbally. I have no rest until I have the certainty to see what is going on with the person in this situation.

I have been aware of this for a long time and have suspected that this is not the case with other people.

But how is it when I just use my mind? What was it like when I had to solve a math problem? I suppose that by then my feelings were largely turned off. In any case, they didn't matter.While doing such tasks, I feel neither discomfort nor sadness nor anything like that. It's just as if I think exclusively. I am only mind.

Perceive feelings in yourself and others

In my memory of my early childhood, it seems to me that there was something like "emotional pulp"; H. that I suspect I couldn't tell the feelings apart. I was overwhelmed by them, then had to scream and no one could place my screaming. It has been reported again and again how often and persistently I screamed and could not calm down. Even if I suspect that I often screamed because I was exposed to too many stimuli that I could not process at the same time, I have to assume that vague feelings also threw me off balance. I gradually learned what fear was and how it should be when someone feels sad or disappointed. They were pictures depicting feelings that helped me understand what was meant when someone said they were sad.

Processing feelings requires being able to differentiate between them and be able to name them. But special strategies are still required, e.g. B. coping with fears. When I once had to stay overnight in a curative education group for two weeks, which I usually only attended half a day, I was terrified of losing my mother. She was in the hospital and was going to have an operation, which I couldn't imagine much about. I finally helped myself by constantly recalling the picture of my mother. So she was always present. But then I wasn't open to anything else, and the carers couldn't distract me with anything. But I have learned that I can overcome great fear if I block my brain with a certain image. It doesn't always have to be my mother's picture. Before an operation, I always had the picture of a friend who was with me as a civilian in front of my eyes and gradually lost my agonizing feelings of fear.

I don't know for sure whether you can teach something like that to a person. In fearful situations, you could ask someone to imagine something specific. Maybe it doesn't always have to be a person. If I imagine a summer meadow with colorful flowers and butterflies, I can use it to cover up other gloomy and frightening images.

I had the opportunity to have many experiences so that, despite the many limitations of my disability, I was able to develop an awareness of myself and an awareness of the others who relate to me. I'm also interested in other people's selves.

And with that I come back to the quote from Damasio, who says: "On a very high and complex level, awareness helps us to develop an interest in the self of others."

Dietmar Zöller, born 1969, handicapped himself, published the following books: If I could talk to you, Bern, 1989 (enlarged); I'm not giving up, Bern, 1992 (enlarged); Autism and body language. Disturbances in signal processing between head and body. Signs - Body - Culture Vol. 6, Berlin, 2001; Supported Communication (FC): Pros and Cons, Autismus Vol. 4, Berlin, 2002.

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Dietmar Zöller: Consciousness is the key to life (Damasio).

Published in: Disabled people in family, school and society. No. 3/2003; Reha Druck Graz, pages 12-19

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Status: May 18, 2006

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