I caught up with Sarah Shoemaker, Academic Director at the BMA, in Black Mountain, NC to learn more. Sarah explained that students who enter their program typically struggle with feelings of failure, school trauma (bullying), school avoidance, and anxiety. At the BMA, from day one, the boys are guided by trained staff to insert the pause. During this quiet moment, students stop, listen, and seek out information before acting on impulses. In this way, the students gain insight into what is happening by noticing these three points. What is my body saying? What is my mind telling me? And What are my emotions?
At TBA, teachers make it a priority to guide students to regulate impulsivity and overcome avoidance—two common challenges children with level 1 autism face. When students take a pause, they become aware of tension in their body, thoughts about how they view the current situation, and uncomfortable emotions.
When students practice mindfulness during moments of calm, they learn what their own emotionally regulated state looks and feels like. In this way, students can better identify when they are not in balance.
In addition, teachers and administrators at the BMA create mindfulness lessons in response to conflicts going on within the school. “I might read within the resident log from the night before that a student made bad assumptions about another student,” starts Sarah. “I will develop a lesson that morning addressing being mindful of negative assumptions and how this can cause conflict with other students.” Mindfulness has helped students notice their own reactions when tension arises instead of pointing to others students’ behaviors.
Sarah teaches mindfulness to the boys by describing how the brain works and introducing sensory awareness. Some of the ways a student practices sensory awareness is by noticing their body posture, following their breath, and sensing emotions in their body.
“Students often avoid mindfulness practice because they have a hard time feeling comfortable in the quiet of their moment,” Sarah explains. “Instead, they are looking for the next stimulus.” Students sometimes become aware of uncomfortable feelings during their practice, so their experience can get harder before it gets better. Another challenge is that some of the boys feel tired when they practice. Sarah attributes this to that fact that feeling calm is foreign for most of her students and the only frame of reference they have for this tranquility are the moments before sleep.
Despite some of these challenges, when it comes to mindfulness practice, the proof is in the pudding. Eventually, students associate feeling good with their practice. The staff at the BMA knows the practice is working when students, themselves suggest stopping class to practice a minute or two of mindfulness. When teachers observe the positive effects of mindfulness, they more motivated to incorporate more mindful moments into the school day. It is an upward spiral.
To find out more about the Black Mountain Academy go to their website.
Article written by Sarah Wood Vallely 2/2/2017
Sarah Wood Vallely (c) 2017