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Waldon Teaches

Bishopswood School June 2013

Schools in Oxfordshire

Young Adult


Teaching aids


About Geoffrey Waldon


Sorting and matching

Waldon's Book (early draft)

Walter Solomon

Chris Holland

Mary Jo Middleton

With a foreward by
Prof. Colwyn Trevarthen

Chapter abstracts

Author's preface

1st two pages

Child development



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© Walter Solomon 2020

Autism and Understanding - Chapter abstracts
Chapter One:
Early Years 1968-72
This sets the scene for the book and includes a documented history of Robert’s (the author’s son)’s early years, his diagnosis of Autism, descriptions of his behaviour and the effect of his condition on the family. It describes the gloomy prognosis by a clinical psychologist suggesting that when he gets too difficult to keep at home we should put him in a home and get on with our lives; reports from the family doctor, his paediatrician and his paediatric neurologist and memories of Robert by family and friends. There is the first meeting with Dr Waldon and the start of his daily lessons following the Waldon Approach
Chapter Two:
School Years (1972 - 1987)
This chapter tells of Robert’s school years from starting nursery school through to high school graduation. The difficulties of his early schooling are described. At five years old he goes to a special needs school and when at seven they want him to transfer to a school for children with severe and complex needs we move him to a supportive private school with a charismatic teacher. At the same time he started psychotherapy with Frances Tustin. Robert passed his eleven plus examination for the Grammar School and after a successful year there the whole family moved to the USA where there were more school problems until he settled down into the county high school system. Academically this went well but socially he remained a loner. The chapter ends with Robert talking to the author about his memories of those years.
Chapter Three:
College Years, UK and Israel 1987 – 1998
The chapter starts with a letter from Dr Waldon to Robert and continues largely in Robert’s voice about his college years his loneliness there, his first abortive date and then his move to the UK where he had hoped to start a career first in osteopathy and then in physiotherapy. It describes how for different reasons those were not successful and then the start of his becoming religious when he stayed with his grandparents in Manchester. Robert then moves to Israel where he stayed for two years studying both Judaism and Mathematics at the Jerusalem College of Technology and finally moving into computers. Finding it hard to get a job he moved back to the USA.
Chapter Four:
Work and Marriage 1998-2011
His working life starts as he goes from job to job not being able to settle in. He starts with a multi level sales company which leads him back to Judaism. Robert develops the theme of how it feels to be autistic, how misery loves company, how he was scared of new work assignments. His mother dies and he grows as the umbilical cord is finally severed. He tries hard but unsuccessfully to find a girl friend. Then he meets Yelena via internet dating and quickly gets married to her. His life changes as his work and marriage both blossom. He gets more secure in his computer skills, is more valued in the work place and he and Yelena start a family. The chapter ends with a retrospective from a psychoanalyst and friend who has known Robert since he was a baby and has watched his development over the years.
Chapter Five:
Waldon Theory of Child Development
Waldon used the expression ‘meaning from movement’ which is foundational to his theory of child development. He hypothesised that understanding is derived from effortful movement and that the earliest learning is derived from the infant’s earliest movements. The fundamental ‘motivation’ is self-reinforcing. Babies develop rhythmic movement and begin to learn through undirected play. Waldon distinguished between the primary impediment which is the intrinsic problem affecting development, and secondary impediments which are learned behaviours arising as a result of the primary problem. The secondary impediments frequently create more problems than the original impediment. Waldon differentiated between General Understanding which the infant learns on its own without adult guidance and is derived from effortful curiosity. Particular Understanding by contrast is taught by adults to prepare the infant for living in whatever society or culture it has been born. From this philosophy Waldon developed the Waldon Approach which comprises one hour a day of focused attention. The facilitator assists the students in performing the movements they have missed. Their general understanding is slowly broadened and deepened. Because the students are never placed under any pressure to succeed, perform or please, the anxiety-avoidance behaviours slowly drop away.
Chapter Six:
Centres Influenced by Geoffrey Waldon
This chapter focuses on different centres influenced by Geoffrey Waldon and which integrated his ideas into their daily activities. In Leeds a group of teachers used the approach in a psychiatric hospital with young adult patients but one teacher also took it into a mainstream primary school. In Oxfordshire it became integrated in the county’s Service for Autism and is used in special needs schools through the county. One school even has purpose built Waldon Rooms. At High Wick Psychiatric Hospital for Children it was called Functional Learning and was used both with individual children and also in the classroom setting. Waldon was called ‘very Piagetian in ways’, by a former Psychiatrist in Charge ‘but looking and working at much finer detail; and so coming to understand development as it goes along normally as well as some of the disasters it can encounter along the way’. In Slovenia over many years of workshops and cross-visiting it has become widely accepted in the treatment of children with a variety of special needs and in Iceland there was a successful trial of the approach in the classroom which demonstrated quite conclusively that it is feasible to introduce the Waldon Approach into a school for educationally retarded pupils and within a reasonable period of time enable teachers to apply it in their everyday work.
Chapter Seven:
Case Studies of Children on the Autistic Spectrum
This chapter contains seven in depth case studies of children on the autistic spectrum. Edward, now nine years old started lessons at about three and has made very substantial progress. As his father said ‘It was important to act early’. Peter started working with Dr Waldon at age two and was one of his earliest students. Dr Waldon had referred to Peter as ‘a generally under-responsive or primary autistic child’. Today in his forties Peter is independent living and there is an interesting interview with him. Dan’s parents, senior academics in Australia, moved to Oxford for several years so that Dan could have Waldon lessons. His parents stated ‘there is no question that Waldon and his method enabled a conceptual transformation to occur in Dan’s understanding of the world’. He has blossomed as a result, far exceeding expectations. Christopher also started young with Dr Waldon but his outcome was less dramatic than many of the others. Marko and Kaspar both had their lessons in Slovenia and have both made real progress. Michael started his lessons at the age of twenty nine and even at that late age his parents have seen a substantial change in his attitude and abilities.
Chapter Eight:
Not only for Autism – More Case Studies
Not only for autism contains more case studies from interviews with the parents of seven young people and seventeen vignettes from teachers at Bishopswood Special School in Oxfordshire. The chapter demonstrates that the Waldon Approach is applicable to children with a wide range of learning and developmental delays. Larry had hydrocephalus, hemiplegia, epilepsy and visual impairment and is now at university studying to be an occupational therapist. Freddie who has Prada Willi Syndrome saw Geoffrey in the first two weeks of life about which meeting his mother has some painful memories. Roy had extreme epilepsy with up to 80 fits a day; Elinor moderate to severe learning difficulties; Abigail unspecified brain damage and Bodhi severe brain damage following meningitis. In Slovenia Vera had brain damage following birth trauma and Bogdan has Charge Syndrome. All the contributors to this chapter are clear that the Waldon Approach has helped to broaden their or their children’s or their students’ understanding and enabled them to exceed expectations in their development. The two teachers from Bishopswood found their teaching transformed by the Waldon Approach.
Chapter Nine:
Functional Reading: A Special Orientation of the Approach
The final chapter is about Functional Reading: a special orientation of the Waldon Approach. It depends on a sound understanding of the learning tools of which the most important for reading are sorting, matching, sequencing and coding. Without that foundation the introduction of Functional Reading or any reading programme would be premature. Functional reading takes the anxiety out of learning to read and can be used when other methods have failed. Every stage of Functional Reading operates on the same basic Waldon principle, derived from his theory of how learning occurs, of doing, noticing that you are doing, and then deliberately trying to repeat that pattern. So initially, from the point of view of students, a new activity arises accidentally from something which they are already doing. Eventually it is noticed by the students and then they can try to re-create it. It is usually incorporated as a part of the daily Waldon lesson. The chapter and the book end with a case study of Edward who we met first in chapter seven.