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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

Geoffrey Waldon
Geoffrey Waldon

Dr Geoffrey Waldon was a practicing neurologist who observed hundreds of children in his practice, in his family and just in the street or in the park. He watched them play and learn from their play actions. He was one of the earliest to recognise that their understanding developed out of their repetitive behaviours. As a neurologist, he developed his ideas over a number of years of professional practice.

At the heart of Waldon theory is the premise that all human understanding arises directly from the organising of patterns of movement in time and space; that meaning comes from movement. In 1972 he left the hospital environment to establish the Centre for Educating the Young Handicapped Child at Home where he practiced until his death in 1989. Waldon was a shy man, ahead of his time, and although he wrote copiously nothing was published. He was working on a volume for publication at the time of his death.

Waldon was the founder and pioneer of the Waldon Approach, which can be used in any setting and at any age or level of ability. It is most frequently used by parents and teachers to help vulnerable people become more self-reliant and more open to others. People who have a learning disability, for example, can strengthen their core understanding, and become more capable, adaptive and emotionally resilient.

The following excerpts are from Chapters seven and eight of Autism and Understanding. These two chapters contain over thirty case studies - some from parents covering several pages and some short vignettes from teachers.

They are representative of the positive light in which all of the teachers, parents and students I interviewed, remembered and gave thanks for their Waldon experience. The most common comment I heard on meeting people was: ‘thank God someone is writing this book’!
Edward’s father in an interview with the author (19th October 2009)

‘Also a part of the genius of the Waldon Approach is taking the sting out of the need for speech. The need for speech is gone. One of the cornerstones of the difficulty had been removed. The anxiety which I transmitted when trying to communicate with Edward was completely gone. It was very liberating and heartening and immensely moving’.

(page 126)
Peter’s father in interview with the author (22nd May 2010)

Dr Waldon referred to Peter as a generally under-responsive or primary autistic child. Peter showed confusion about the location of sound sources and, except when clearly distressed, ignored his mother completely, coming passively to anyone holding out an invitational hand and was willingly led out of the room without evidence of concern or even a glance towards his mother………………………………………….. Returning to Dr Waldon and his theory and practice with regard to problems in child development we have no doubt that he made the crucial contribution to the remarkable progress that Peter made in those early years which has given him a quality of life which would otherwise have been denied him. In this sense we would say that Geoffrey Waldon saved Peter’s life, as indeed he saved ours.

(page 132)
Dan’s father by email from Australia with the author (20th October 2009)

I think it is fair to say that Dan’s encounter with Waldon and the Waldon method applied by Richard Brooks was transforming. Learning how to learn made great sense in Dan’s case. Because of the epilepsy and its treatment Dan had clearly missed out on crucial initial stages of development when the world was blocked out from him. Dan was a very cooperative Waldon student. He seemed to calmly enjoy doing all the exercises with the toys. The environment of assisted asocial learning with the facilitator behind him and the absence of any encouragement, praise or criticism, seemed to work incredibly well.

(page 144)
Larry’s parents in interview with the author (15th September 2010)

We would both like to say how enormously grateful we are to Katrin and Alan [Waldon Approach teachers] for their work with Larry and with ourselves. The work was neither easy nor comfortable and was sometimes emotionally tough. But their belief in Larry (and in us), the idea of his going to university which we never forgot and which now has become a reality, was such an inspiration to us all.

(page 161)
Freddie’s father in interview with the author (26th June 2009)

The Waldon lessons helped in all sorts of ways. They facilitate the student’s acquisition of General Understanding through the Learning-How-to-Learn-Tools. I do believe that Freddie’s General Understanding was both broader and deeper than could be expected of a child with his syndrome. I am totally convinced that his understanding of himself and of the world around him increased enormously through the Waldon lessons.

(page 163)
Roy’s father in interview with the author (23rd March 2010)

Without Waldon he would have gone early into residential care and I believe people would have given up on him ever being able to learn anything. It is very unlikely that he would have developed even the basic skills I have described above.

(page 169)
Elinor’s father in interview with the author (13th October 2009)

We did all the banging, reaching, extending, using space, and rings on sticks. She reached down here and over there; and a stick with a ring on it; and transferring from the stick which you held in your hand onto a stick which was on the table. It is my sense that those activities helped Elinor come out of herself and use a wider space. Gradually Elinor’s world got bigger by inches and feet and yards. The world got bigger for her. That is real, that happened.

(page 171)
Abigail’s parents in interview with the author (23rd May 2010)

Geoffrey took us away from this concept of chronological age and chronological expectation and taught us to see development as a progression; where you progress next is dependent on where you are now and not due to any artificial benchmark of chronological age. So we see Abigail in terms of where she is, rather than how old she is and this has given us some very interesting run ins with more conventional establishments.

(page 175)
Bodhi’s mother in interview with the author (23rd March 2010)

The exposure that Geoffrey has had to his work has generated two diametrically opposed responses. One has been from the people who have experienced it, and is just joy at his insight and gratitude for the results he has produced; and the other has been derision basically from people who do not understand.

(page 176)
Carol Parrey, nursery teacher at Bishopswood Day School in interview (24th May 2010)

We still use the Waldon Approach which we call learning-to-learn; we train staff. The people from the Oxfordshire Autism Support Service are familiar with Waldon and also train staff. Over the years I have seen children move on. Many of the children we had coming through with autism twenty years ago have made a lot of progress; some have gone on to do A levels, and to university.

(page 182)
Judi Stacpoole in interview with the author (25th May 2010)

I am Senior Teacher in the Primary department at Bishopswood School and have been involved with Waldon since about 1988 through Richard Brooks and Sheila Coates from Oxfordshire when they started doing the training with us. We just thought: ‘Hey – what a good way of enabling children actually to learn’ Ever since then at this school we have been real advocates of Waldon and it is interesting how most of our children, and they all have severe and complex needs, have taken to it.

(page 185)
And by email
Hi Walter,
Thanks for getting in touch.
I was born in Manchester and had meningitis when I was a baby. I was in a coma and my parents were told I wouldn't come out of it. Against the odds I survived and then they said I was brain damaged and would never talk. My parents took me to every specialist in the country by the sounds of it, they wouldn't accept it, but were always told there was no hope and to give up. Then one day my father was speaking to one of his friends about the situation and by coincidence this friend lived next door to Dr. Waldon and introduced them. As last roll of the dice I was taken there, but really with little hope that anything could be done. It wasn't long after that I was cured and could talk, and my dad was then looking for a doctor to shut me up!! I was too young to remember the details of the treatment at the time but I'm sure my father could enlighten you. I am now aged 30 and moved away from Manchester aged 18, went to University in London, and now work for STA Travel managing our agents in 13 countries in Africa & Middle East, I have been living in Johannesburg for nearly two years with my wife. So I am definitely fully cured - oral communication is the most important part of my job!! I owe it all to Dr. Waldon.

Best wishes, Vic

Author’s note:
Vic says that it was not long before he was ‘cured and could talk’ and his father confirmed that in a separate email to me. That is wonderful, but I do want to emphasize that such a quick result is rare indeed and although benefits can often be seen quite quickly the development of understanding can take some years of daily one hour Waldon lessons.