The internship – An Empathy – Driven Approach

To be honest, humanity doesn’t have a clear understanding of empathy, which is the ability to empathize and understand the experiences of others, particularly when it comes to disabilities. Our internship programs aim to explore and reveal the true essence and principles of empathy.

1. Learn actually sense the other

Anna-trainee (a person with cerebral palsy) tries to catch tactile feeling from Dasha and Aidana (trainer). We see the natural responses of the tactile receptors of her hands, fingertips. She enjoys the feeling of another person but without mixing with her own disability experience. That is the somatic affective empathy response – totally novel and fresh feeling.  

Dasha, as a child, is open to a natural tactile somatic affective empathic connectedness. She enjoys responses of Aidan’s tactile receptors.  Such kind of tactile sense of the other is a natural need for children.

Unfortunately, in everyday life adults lose their sincere empathic feeling to the other person. Thus, we see how difficult it is for Zhenya (a person without a disability) to catch tactile feelings from Aidana. She feels nervous, awkward, her inner tension builds up.

2. Learn the actual 3D visual-tactile spatial navigation

We see how Anna shares tactile somatic sensations with Aidana, and this helps her learn to navigate in three-dimensional space thanks to the simple viewfinder interface.

Dasha easily reproduces the same procedure, perceiving the illuminated space and feeling the depth among the bushes, branches and leaves. The natural way of sharing empathic perception sparks the child’s curiosity.

On the contrary, for Zhenya it is challenging to perceive anything but leaves and brunches. Her skin and eyes are used to focus on primarily objects and activate foveal vision only.

3. Train self-motion in optic flow experiencing visual-tactile navigation

Visual-tactile navigation in the optical flow stimulates self-movement (head-neck movement). During empathically stimulated self-movement, the vestibular nuclei in the brainstem are in an indefinite state.  The head and neck control the vestibular nuclei. 

We see how the perception of depth causes involuntary movement of Anna’s head and neck. In addition to the vestibular effect, at this moment a group of small muscles of Anna’s neck and body are activated, which are not subject to spasms, unlike larger muscles, she feels her body relax. This is especially important in the case of cerebral palsy.

We observe how Dasha experiences her body free, she follows by self-motion in the coordinates of depths as a natural state. She seems to float, flying through the depths among the branches.

For the adult intern, Zhenya, such movement is not understandable. Her head and neck remain dependent on the Earth’s center and vestibular nuclei keep her body under firm control.

4. Train audio-tactile coupling by experiencing empathic self-motion

Anna physically feels an empathic audio-tactile connectedness during self-motion. The small muscles of her laryngeal motor system, thanks to empathic self-motion, are also under the control of the head and neck, and she can produce audio-tactile communication bodily in intonation, she can learn this kind of pronunciation of syllables, words, phrases.  Thus, she can bypass the usual tension and difficulties of her speech and keep the relaxation of the body under control.

Dasha shows audio-tactile coupling empathic connectedness and perceive the actual 3D space with pleasure.

Zhenya failed in audio-tactile coupling. Her habitual intonation inevitably blocks the possibility of such a coupling.

5. The last, but no less important tip is empathic abdominal breathing

The actual empathic connectedness demands overcoming quiet, shallow breathing and increasing the volume of inhalation and exhalation by abdominal breathing.

Due to empathic breathing in unison with Aidana, Anna’s respiration rhythms step by step keeps synchronizing.  We see how the tightness in Anna’s chest muscles decreases alleviating breathing difficulties causing tensed vocalization and speech. It opens up the possibility for Anna to breathe deeply and speak freely to overcome spasmatic laryngeal motor system.

Dasha picks up on Aidana’s tactile sensations and starts breathing in sync with her. Dasha’s breathing volume changes, and she experiences a sense of bodily freedom. It is evident that she enjoys this state.

Zhenya finds it difficult to change her breathing pattern because her body has homeostatic balance and accustomed to its current internal state. As a result, there is no necessity for Zhenya to deviate from her habitual state in favor of feeling another person. Her breathing keeps being quiet and shallow.

Feedback from internship participants:

Zhenya, intern of Introductory course “An Empathy – Driven Approach”

To any unprepared person, elusive movements may seem like magic outside of Hogwarts, but this is a little different. Being a typical self-sufficient person, I reacted extremely weakly to the another person’s impact (Aidana and Dasha worked with me).

My tactile receptors were in a deep hibernation, and only waked up at the last lesson, which was the biggest breakthrough for me. Of course, I felt nervous, awkward, that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get the thought out of my head: “So, what’s next? Where do i need to look? What should I feel? Oh, she’s trying so hard, maybe I should tell that I feel something? But what do I feel? This will be slyness … Oh, did my eye just twitch? Probably this is the overvoltage… So where should I look to? – and so on in this spirit.

Breathing also passed by, but it was very interesting to watch Arsen on the video and Anya next to me. Aidana has always been interesting to watch. And she is also very beautiful.

At the last lesson, I felt a pulsation in my fingertips, as if they were a little numb, but the energy in my fingers moved along my arm, and I wanted to stretch my palm and fist. This was my biggest breakthrough in two weeks of internship.

Lessons on vision and space dawned on me, but it was hard for me to understand is I did it correctly. The space between the branches seemed to me transparent and jelly. You always want to ask again: is this how it should be? It was difficult to focus the gaze in this way for a long time. It seems to me that after the trainings on vision I yawned during the day until the end of the internship and easily fell asleep in the evenings. Movement in space didn’t really work for me.

Of course, it’s a pity that I couldn’t feel everything at the maximum speed, but getting into such a place and to such specialists was very valuable for me.

Aidana and Lena (trainers) were very attentive, created a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom, tried not to overload, showed many examples, in video and photo format. Special thanks to Lena for a great sense of humor – some moments were remembered due to her jokes 🙂 You are doing a very cool job, and I am glad to know you. I hope we will meet again and be useful to each other in the future. Let May 2023 be the beginning of our long friendly relationship! Thank you!

Anya, intern of Introductory course “An Empathy – Driven Approach”

In my opinion, it was the acquaintance with Aidana that made our internship really interesting and useful. She is the trainer of the main stage of the “An Empathy – Driven Approach” training program. And I must say, everything that happened during these classes turned my picture of the world upside down, because it was clearly beyond the scope of my perception… Aidana patiently told and showed what C-tactile receptors are, why it is important to work with space and why the other person is needed for this work to be effective. Together we went through all the main stages of the program: 1. Tactile connectedness, activity of C receptors; 2. The difference between proprioceptive breathing within the tactile connection and quiet breathing; 3. Effector visual perception, tactile connectedness in light coordinates; 4. Vestibular system, self-motion within tactile connectedness; 5. Joint activity of auditory and tactile receptors. Audiotactile sound and speech.

Aidana told why the detailed study of each of them in the end helps to restore the brain. And how does this even happen? Each lesson consisted of two parts. The first, theoretical part when our curators, Lena and Aidana, tried their best to give us a scientific explanation of all those processes that we tried in practice in the second part of the lesson. To be honest, I almost didn’t understand and didn’t remember anything from the theory because before I had practically no contact with neurophysiology. It was terribly hard to take it all in. But neither Aidana nor Lena gave up: they answered all the questions, reasoned and pondered with us, explained the same thing 100 times again and again maintaining amazing calmness!

In general, the training was clearly successful. I have long been not to receive so much new information in a unit of time!!! But the biggest discovery for me was, perhaps, the practical part of our classes. After all, it was a unique opportunity to see and to feel that the technique we were shown really works! I just don’t have enough knowledge yet to clearly understand, let alone explain to others, exactly how this happens!!!

For amateurs like me, this may seem mystical, but on a physical level, with my skin, I felt the energy that arose between me and my specialist trainer. I realized that it is possible to look at the world in a completely different way than we are used to look and at the same time receive a whole palette of emotions that were previously unfamiliar to me. I felt how it was to breathe deeply “with full chest”, and not as I used to… And, by the way, at first I was very scared of this feeling… I found out what response you can get from the body if you connect sound… And this is only a small part of all my impressions. It seemed very interesting to me personally that the method works faster and easier with people who have any health restrictions. The thing is that it is easier for them to give a reflex response which underlies this technique, since they do not have protective mechanisms, and there body even seems to be looking for any opportunities for recovery. This theory was confirmed daily: I, a person with cerebral palsy, moved quite easily and quickly through all the steps. Every time I tried and felt something new. And my friend Zhenya, who has no health restrictions did not feel anything at all. And from class to class, the situation almost did not change.

Each time on the way home Zhenya tried to find out what exactly I felt? What did I do to get these feelings? And what does she need to do to move forward even a little bit?! I didn’t have answers to these questions. But during such discussions a joke was born. It says “I finally found an activity where people with disabilities are easily ahead of the healthy people!”. After all, in ordinary life it often turns out quite the opposite… I must say that at the last lesson Zhenya got some tactile sensations… Maybe if we continued to study, she would catch up with me and overtake me.

In general, it’s great that this technique has such an extensive scientific justification. All these exercises are too strange and unusual for the layman. As a person who is critical of everything I could easily doubt the adequacy and effectiveness of such an approach if I hadn’t seen a lot of scientific articles that show step by step how the brain of autistic children who participated in the projects of the organization “Inclusive Practices” is restored. I have met them and their parents, who were so inspired by the results obtained that they decided to completely change their lives, move to another country and actively engage in research activities together with other specialists. I was very impressed by the story of Aidana herself. She came to Inclusive Practices to help her younger brother recover from a hard form of autism and then remained working in the organization seeing that the tools offered were very very effective. I am infinitely glad that I now know people who are so deeply immersed in the problems of autism and other disorders in the brain. I would like to believe that I also managed to make a feasible contribution to such an important and necessary activity. I really hope that we will be able to somehow continue cooperation in the future.