Stop “Side Coaching”

Since I started working with students in Autism Movement Therapy® I ask parents to do a very, very difficult thing: Stop “side coaching”. I know from personal experience how hard it is to stop “side coaching” because I have two boys. When they were young I hated leaving the class or leaving my kid alone to do whatever he would do. Later, I began to see the benefits of leaving the room or watching quietly.

“Side coaching” is very common in all dance classes. When parents see their child misbehaving or losing concentration you can hear the whispered shouts, like “Pay attention!” “Listen to your teacher.” “Stop talking!” A lot of dance schools don’t allow parents to be in the classroom. As a teacher, years ago in ballet or tap dance class, I preferred that the parents stay out of the dance room completely.

When my own boys were young I wanted to be there “to help”. I did a lot of side coaching. I was a lot like a “stage mom” in performance classes. I wanted MY kids to pay attention and cooperate with the teacher. Some teachers asked parents to leave because the children would behave differently when we weren’t in the room. I didn’t like it, but I left. After a while I started enjoying the time to myself. I’d sit alone…all alone! And if I was lucky, I could talk to other adults.

My dance students now are autistic and most of them are nonverbal. Their parents have had difficulty in the past with teachers or instructors in other activities. Not all instructors have much patience for the behaviors they see. The need to protect their child, or to help both teacher and student during many activities is very strong. The parents, understandably, want to help.

Autism Movement Therapy® is a safe place for both parent and student. I will encourage and never chide the students for taking too long or not paying attention. Parents don’t have to leave the classroom, unless they want to, but I do ask them not to coach or assist their child during class. The students need to dance to the best of their ability without assistance in order to get familiar with their own body/brain connection. I need to see the behaviors in order to work with the student. My job is to help them move with me on their own. It takes time and patience. I have no deadline to meet objectives. If the student goes to the parent during the class, I ask the parent to just redirect him or her back to class.

Everybody is a role model for someone. When the children watch me, watch the others follow me, and we all dance TOGETHER the win is huge! If the children are unassisted in a group class then they start to help each other. Being helped or led by a peer is very powerful for the students. I want this to be a safe place to practice social and other skills that they have learned elsewhere. The kids are in a structured play situation with others, with friends, and I don’t think they realize that their brain is challenged so new neurons and pathways can be created to aid in speech and communication. I hope they are just having fun.

So, if you are asked to stop “side coaching” try to see the positive side. If the instructor is capable of dealing with your student, enjoy watching your child learn. If you need to leave, look for a good place to sit and relax. Remember what it was like to just sit somewhere, quietly, and do nothing?

Elizabeth Rose Chacon
Autism Hope Alliance Guest Blogger

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