Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ski Dunce

I'm sorry, this is another skiing post.

Apart from skiing with MK, I've been doing a lot of solo skiing. I guess you would say that I've turned into a a bit of a junkie. I'm 46 which is late to be learning and, as I see it, I only have a few years to really master this sport if I want to ski at a fairly high level through my fifties. Basically, I have to do most of my falling now, before the age at which it starts to cause injuries. So I have been going up the hill a few times a week and working hard on my technique. Nonetheless, I've been stuck. There are things I can't get beyond.

So I took a lesson. It was a group lesson, for advanced skiers. I've taken the very same lesson before, as well as some intermediate lessons on the same mountain. I knew, or thought I knew what to expect.

I should make it clear that, while I have good balance, do a lot of sport and I'm quite fit, I am not athletically inclined. I'm awful with aall ball sports, for example. My coordination is poor and have a lot of difficultly positioning my body in space. I university, for example, I had to drop out of my tap dancing course (I was a theater major) because I could not keep up even with the basic introductory drills. Still, when I put my mind to it, I can learn.

But not today. There were three of us in the group and we had two instructors. From the first exercise, I had trouble getting it. you had to two tow different things with your two different hands (things that one never does with one's hands when skiing) and a third thing with the legs. If I would have repeated it two or three times, I probably would have been OK, but we moved on right away. Next, they had us lay in the snow with our feet in the are and turn them. I didn't turn mine right. I'm still not sure what right would have been. Fresh on that failure to grasp the theory, we went on to apply it in practice. I didn't do very well at that either. I was still trying to apply the first exercise, which was about edging, and in this one we were not supposed to use our edges. Having failed to do things properly with or without edges, the second instructor, taking pity on me, started correcting my posture. With my new posture on my mind, my top/bottom separation (your shoulders are not supposed to move when your legs move) was lost. This was noted and offered as an explanation for my general uselessness. By this point, we were certainly in need of an explanation, as I had gone, in the space of an hour, from a confident skier, zooming down the black slopes with gusto, to a stiff, awkward novice who might have appeared, to an outside observer, to be trying out skis for the first time. At one point, I skied into a fence at about three miles per hour. Both instructors felt for me. They said they could see that I was afraid (I probably looked that way) and apologized for the steepness of terrain that was tediously flat. Over the next hour, they all but ignored the other two students and tried countless additional explanations and approaches and exercises meant to help me get it, but I got worse not better.

At the end, I thanked them for their patience, but I should have also thanked them for the opportunity to experience what MK so often has to live through. This was input overload, which had a cascading effect of shutting down my existent skills, requiring more and more mental effort just to stay functional. There was even a language component. The instructors were Russian and, as the lesson progressed, I stopped being able to understand their English. Classically, they were well intentioned, and as an expression of that, they placed more and more demands on my overloaded systems. They developed theories to account for what they saw and added to the complexity of the situation. All of this in front of my fellow students, giving a nice social edge to it.

I'm pleased to say that I did not ski off in the middle of the lesson (it was touch and go, but I really did want to learn). Once it was over, I went and got a coffee and made a list of the eleven things that they were asking me to do simultaneously. Then I went off and practiced two of them for the rest of the day (mixed in with a bit of regular skiing). I can report that I did in fact get some millage out of the two things I was working on. Nonetheless, it was a demoralizing experience. And I'm a grown man with all sorts of psychological supports and techniques at my disposal to help me shrug it off. I can only imagine how it must feel to someone younger and less able to see the experience from a distanced perspective.

I'm wondering if I should just go ahead and rename this blog: What Skiing Teaches me about Autism.


Niksmom said...

What a fascinating experience. Um, probably not for you at the time it was happening I sometimes feel that way —the sensory overload or assault— when I go to the gym. The loud music, the glaring lights, the televisions with constantly changing screens. I often wonder if this is what it's like for our kids —only a hundred times more intense.

Do you think your experiences in that class will cause you to do anything differently with MK?

VAB said...

Great question. I didn't really think about it until you asked it.

I usually try to strip things down so that I am only presenting the teaching point and there are minimal secondary demands. For example, for years, all teaching of consequence occurs on the bed, with low lighting and both of us facing forwards.

But when you asked one thing did occur to me. I was thinking that, in a way, the instructor was acting in line with my own policy, because when one approach failed, he tried something else, but that switching of approaches caused most of the problems. After the lesson, I realized that several of the exercises were directed at the same teaching point. And it occurred to me that, had he said, when he switched from one thing to another, "I'm trying to teach you to get more weight onto you downhill edge, but that didn't work, so let's try another way of learning the same thing" I probably would not have felt so overwhelmed.

I often switch examples or "back things up" when I am trying to explain something to MK. I am going to try to make a point of explaining why when I do so.

Maddy said...

Yup, it's quite humbling really. I wouldn't re-name the blog.....although come to think of it that might be a back door into getting the 'typical' to alter their perspectives?

Certainly makes me think that it's worthwhile making a PEC for each bit, practicing each bit separately and then gradually add each one in the hope that you can do them all together, just skip the verbal component completely.
Best wishes and lots of luck