Our presence

Our presence is the most important tool we have to teach the feeling of companionship.

Without presence there is no relation. And the presence is only real presence when the special friend is aware of our presence.

Presence is more than just our physical presence. It is also our mental presence.

Our physical presence should be inviting and express warmth, love, safety, joy, empathy  and most of all authenticity. This is only possible when we first focus on our mental presence.  We have to be fully open and focused on how the special friend feels. We have to let go all our thoughts, judgments and acceptations about his behavior in the past, now and future.  We may need some alertness on how he may react out of fear during our contact, to ensure that the interaction will be safe for both of us. But for the rest we focus on the feelings and the needs of the person at this moment.


Focusing on the needs of the person helps us to deal with our own emotions and feelings.  ‘Negative’ feelings like irritation or anger vanish and are transformed into feelings of love and care for the person.

For some of us it may be important to evoke the proper mental presence intentionally before going to the special friend. This often can be done by just standing still for a moment before making contact with him and think and feel what you are going to give him. For some of us it is more difficult and then you need more practice and experience.


Even if we have the good mental presence it may be difficult to enter the special friends ‘space’ without making him afraid of us. So we have to find a way to gentle ourselves into this space without scaring him. We do this slowly and carefully and we keep focused on the feelings of the special friend and not on what we want to achieve in this interaction. As soon as we feel tension growing within our special friend, we withdraw a bit and then try to enter the space again.


This is a very delicate process. Some people say that out of respect for the person you should not enter his space if he doesn’t want you to do so. It is a misinterpretation to say that he doesn’t want us to come near to him, as if this is his free choice. The reality is that he is afraid for us. If we decide not to gentle ourselves into his space, we will never be able to teach him that with us he can feel safe, loved, loving and connected.


The initiative of the contact can also come from the special friend himself. That of course is very good. But it could also be that the same special friend avoids you when the initiative is yours. This often indicates that in his memory that when caregivers take the initiative for contact, it is a sign that he has to do something or to stop doing what he is doing. For special friends with these memories, it’s important to experience that your initiative is different, that it’s a sign of your friendship. You can do this by frequently going to the person for a short moment of time and just make mutual contact, without wanting anything. Another way is, that when the special friend initiates the contact, you don’t only accept his initiative, but you gradually try to put more energy in the contact than the special friend does. It’s a gentle way of taking over the initiative without taking it away from the person.


Our hands.

Touching the special friend in the process of teaching companionship is very important. Touching is a very intense and direct way to make him feel that our touch expresses warmth, love and safety. In many Western countries and cultures touching a special friend warmly isn’t customary and sometimes it is even forbidden in professional care-relations out of fear that touches are misinterpreted as sexual intentions. On the other hand, the special friends may have a lot of experiences of being touched in a functional way when helped washing and dressing or even experience of being touched in a harsh way when standing in the way  or when care givers want to control his behaviors.  This may result in fear of being touched by us.

So it’s no wonder that in the beginning of the process of gentle teaching, special friends may be afraid of our touches. We don’t ‘respect’ this fear by deciding not to touch the person, but by finding ways to gently teach the person that our touch is different: it expresses unconditional love and safety.


Another good reasoning for teaching the person that our touch is good, is that by touching him this way, he may experience that finally his body is respected and that it’s good to nurture the body. This may help to improve his body image the person has or to heal the emotional pain he may have ‘stored’ in his body in the form of emotional or energetic blockades .


Our eyes

Just like touching, it is also very important to teach the person that it is good to have warm mutual eye contact.  And also similar to being touched, many special friends are afraid of warm eye contact.  They may look straight into your eyes to check if they can trust you, but when you make the initiative for warm eye contact, they will turn their face of and avoid your eyes.  This also is the result of many negative memories about intense eye contact. We usually only make intense eye contact when we want the other to listen to us and to obey to us.


We can see this happen in daily life with children. Parents look them straight in the eyes and want the children to look back when they have to listen or obey to the parents. In normal daily life we hardly ever look others in the eyes. And intense warm eye contact we only seem to do with little baby’s or during the first few weeks after we have fallen in love with someone. Domineering eye contact however we tend to do quite often, when somebody doesn’t listen to us or does something we don’t like.

Specially children or adults who can’t handle their stress and act out with challenging behavior, have a lot of experience with domineering or suppressing eye-contact and have hardly any memories of warm eye contact. This results in fear of eye contact.


For some people with autism, by the nature of their vulnerability, accepting and answering eye contact is difficult. But when they are afraid of eye contact it isn’t because of their autism, but because of their life experiences.

So we have to teach our special friend hat our eye contact means that we really want to meet with him, without judgments and only with the intention to help unconditionally.  So we may start with a kind of peek-a-boo and then try to make the eye contact longer and more intense. And not only our eyes, but our whole face expresses joy, warmth and love.


Our words

Also words are a very strong tool in teaching the feeling of companionship. But actually it aren’t the exact words that matter. It is the tone which has to be consistent with our mental presence, that matters most. We all have learned in our life to say nice things to a person and even with a nice tone when at the same time we don’t like the person or feel irritated by him. At that moment we send a ‘double message’. The verbal message that it is good and the non-verbal message that it is not good. With our eyes and touches this ‘double message’ is very difficult, but with our words we often do this. A double message is not only confusing for the special friend, but it also may confirm to him that we are not trustworthy.


Another aspect of using words is that the words usually are directed form our conceptual mind and to the conceptual mind of the other. Beside the fact that we may think that the special friend understands more then he actually does, the problem is not in his conceptual mind. The problem we have to deal with is his emotion and how he can handle this. So our words shouldn’t be on a conceptual level, but on the emotional level: from heart to heart.


The tone of our words is more important than the content. But sometimes it is very difficult to find the right tone, especially with people with a mild intellectual disability and a disharmonious  development profile. Suppose our special friend is an adult and sees himself as such, but he has a conceptual mind comparable with a kid of 7 years old and emotions comparable with a 3 year old child. We have to speak with our special friend in a way that he feels respected as an adult, but with words he can intellectually understand like the kid of 7 and a content he can emotionally deal with like a 3 year old kid. This is truly a balancing act.


An activity

Activities can be used as a tool for developing companionship. But it’s important to realize that the activity isn’t a goal in itself. It is just a helpful tool, a bridge in making contact. We can use any activity in which both the special friend and we feel comfortable doing it together. It can be the helping him getting dressed, washed or eating. It can be walking together, doing the dishes together, playing together, etc.

The activity is the ‘safe zone’ from where we try to enter into the space of the person by directing our attention from the activity to the person. But before making this movement, we focus on the feelings of the person and on our own heart. Then we focus on how to use our other tools. We make our voice warmer, try to make warm eye contact, touch the special friend warmly and try to evoke reciprocity from him. As soon as we feel tension growing within our special friend we go back to the safe zone of the activity. This we repeat and each time we try to stay in the real contact a little bit longer.