Interview by Nancy Ng.
Nathan Jacobson is currently a student in Luna’s Studio Lab creative dance improvisation class. I first met Nathan’s mother, Irene Jacobson, several years ago at the Oakland site of Family Support Services of the Bay Area. They provide home-based and community-based respite services to parents and caregivers of vulnerable children, and they had asked us to bring MPACT parent-child and parent education classes to their site. I had a chance to speak with Irene and interview her during Nathan’s dance class. Here is their story:
Nancy: Tell me about how you first got to know Luna Dance, or your first experience?
Irene: My first experience with Luna Dance was your presentation at Family Support Services of the Bay Area . . . for respite providers there at their office. You had come and given a discussion about [the] psychological, biological, physiological development of the child’ awareness and development of the child. You had done that and it had sparked my interest and I wanted to go and try it for Nathan’s sake. You had mentioned the program MPACT. I think you had recommended that to me and I gave it a try. What was nice was that it was at the libraries, like at Fruitvale, and we could take BART – we live near a BART station. We could make a big deal of it to go, walk to the BART station and get on BART to go and have an hour of dance, and it was really enjoyable. He was not very responsive all the time, we would be side-by-side with the parents. The leaders were very good and were just very encouraging. Just the idea, like what we’re doing now, trying to expand his awareness which will be a life-long endeavor of ours. And I guess just being around lots of other kids and other parents, and just a lot of activities. And, I don’t know it just seemed very beneficial to him. It was through the MPACT program that someone would say “spin”, and two or three times, he did actually respond. Nathan, we’re all going to spin, and that started in the MPACT program, to follow a direction; and it would of course be a direction that he understood and enjoyed doing.
The warm-ups he does with Deborah, he responds very well to that. Anyway, it was at the MPACT program I saw him enjoying a movement, as spinning – either on the floor on his bottom or standing up, it was the first movement that brought a smile to his face. It seemed to give him so much joy, from hearing someone ask for it, and doing it, and having fun, what a concept. That was years ago.
Nancy: How old is Nathan now? I remember meeting you at family services – was he four?
Irene: He couldn’t crawl until he was 23 months . . . with weight on his hands.
Nancy: And, I remember in the beginning he didn’t crawl.
Irene: 28 months he started to walk
Nancy: So maybe like at two, he wasn’t walking, and if he crawled it wasn’t very often.
Irene: I can’t remember. I guess the whole point was to give him some awareness of himself, and it is still a struggle today, but we’re working on it. And like response to others . . . my dream is to have cooperative something. You know, response where someone does something and he responds to it. Oh, or helping; often he helps, but with prompting. He is not fully aware. And taking verbal cues, “Oh Nathan, we are going to do this now.” He is able to that better now. I am just trying to find a way to keep him out of his own world, and be in the rest of the world; and I felt that the MPACT was a great way to start doing that.
Nancy: We knew you and Nathan in MPACT, and then there was a point you weren’t coming to classes.
Irene: I can’t remember why.
Nancy: I can’t remember why, either. And then you called about our Studio program, and it took me a long time to get back to you; I am embarrassed to say, but then I called you. I am curious about the impetus to enroll him again—to come back to Luna for one of our programs.
Irene: I just wanted him to have more of the movement and the body awareness. I don’t know what made me, maybe I just was frustrated. I think he was getting services at Kaiser, and that stopped . . . PT (physical therapy) and OT (occupational therapy), and speech. They were getting it through Easter Seals, but then they dropped us because he wasn’t improving quickly enough . . . and that doesn’t make sense. Anyhow, so there was like a void, and I felt I needed to fill that void. He was getting ABA for his autism at our home.
Nancy: What is ABA?
Irene: Applied Behavioral Analysis, which is a Skinner approach to play theory. They work with the child on responsiveness and so on, which is great; but I guess I was thinking if just doing this was working for us anymore. In other words, he is getting therapies through various agencies—medically, psychological services – physical and mental. I felt there was something more he needed. I guess I just want him to break out.
NN: What do you see that the dance does? You talked a little bit about it. Do you want to share anything more about how you see dance supports what you would like to have for Nathan?
IJ: I guess my sixth sense tells me that when you move and you expand yourselves in different ways—expanding his realm of movement I feel like opens doors to his psychological, spiritual and emotional development. I just feel like enjoyment of opening him up, there’s that, and there’s the part where following directions and working within a structure, and sharing an experience with other children and the movement; he seems to like that from time to time. Like if a bunch of us are running, it’s sort of exciting, and that brings a smile to his face. I just think neurologically, there’s a real advantage to moving and expanding your realm of movement. I don’t know.
NN: I think you do know.