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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



Autism and Understanding on Facebook twitter page Walter on LINKED IN

© Walter Solomon 2020

The Waldon Approach to Child Development
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 seventies but many of the ideas are being validated with increased appreciation of the role that movement plays in development by researchers like Stern 2010, Gallese and Lakoff 2005, 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 level of 'General Understanding', 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".
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 fifteen months:
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“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”.
at twenty two months the educational psychologist reported:
“My view is that Robert presents a picture of general backwardness”.
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. His charismatic teacher Joanne Beressi feels the same way about her important work with Robert.
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 five 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".
Richard Brooks wrote: "I can imagine him reworking the fifteenth draft but not at a publisher’s party". It is however necessary in appraising the 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 six 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 these two chapters 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.
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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 Ph.D. showed that it worked well there in a classroom setting.
Chapter seven contains a series of case studies of students on the autistic spectrum and chapter eight 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 nine contains the theory and practice of a specialised 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 five 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 are available through the website if a parent finds that easier than making their own. There are also videos on this 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…………
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