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From Disorientation to Orientation: A Powerful Tool

By Jo Hainsworth

I was led to the Davis approach via the desire to help a young lad who was sad that he couldn’t read, and I had no idea it would lead me to something so helpful in my own life. Discovering Ron Davis’ observations of autism has been life changing for me, just as discovering that I am on the spectrum at 50 years of age was.

The Davis understanding of orientation and disorientation has helped me both understand why I experience life as I do, and how I can be more in the world. When we are oriented, our brain correctly interprets the data coming in from our various senses. When we are disoriented, there are distortions in how we perceive that information, and this can make life really difficult.

While the optimum way to experience the Davis approach is via a one-on-one program with a trained facilitator, I have found just diving into all the resources that are available to me as a lay person has been tremendously helpful. Having an understanding of disorientation has enabled me to make my world bigger, as in the past I’ve clearly avoided any activity that resulted in me being disoriented, leading to my world shrinking over the decades without my even really seeing what was happening.

"The Davis understanding of orientation and disorientation has helped me both understand why I experience life as I do, and how I can be more in the world."

After reading Ron Davis’ book The Gift of Learning and Abigail Marshall’s Autism and The Seeds of Change, I started to see disorientation in so many aspects of my life.

For example, I discovered that I couldn’t drive a vehicle that was new to me if the radio was playing, because the sensory input when I was trying something new would be too much, and I would become disoriented. This explained things back through the years that never made sense before, things that would be simple for most but were so difficult for me.

I have long been a fan of mindfulness, but without the understanding of disorientation, simply being mindful of my reactions wasn’t all that helpful. Having learnt about disorientation, I now had a tool – I could reorient myself. I discovered that many different things cause disorientation for me, including:

  • Loud noises

  • Feeling too hot

  • Spatial perception challenges (for example trying to read a map)

  • Strong smells

  • Time pressure (or any pressure I’m putting on myself, or that I perceive someone is putting on me)

  • Trauma triggers

  • Feeling someone’s disapproval

Being aware of this one aspect of autism has been life changing for me. I can now see that I’m disorienting, figure out what’s triggering the confusion that leads to disorientation, and find ways to do things I would previously have avoided. That has been incredibly empowering.

I am so, so thankful for having discovered the Davis Autism Approach.

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