LORNA JEAN KING: a TRIBUTE-
THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
By Christine Ford
I sing so-long, farewell, to you my friend,
Goodbye, for now, until we meet again.
It’s been great to work and play together,
But now it’s time to say goodbye. . .
At The Temple Grandin School, in Phoenix, Arizona, housed within The Children’s Center for Neurodevelopmental Studies, where I teach and call my second home, one of the techniques we use to transition our kids from activity to activity, or place to place, is music. The words above are just one of the songs we use. There are many therapies incorporated into our kids daily activities, including Recreation Therapy, Horticulture Therapy, Speech Therapy, Music Therapy, Occupational Therapy and of course, Education, which all work together to create and environment conducive to meeting the needs of the very exceptional children whose growth and lives we are entrusted with. Serving our kids who are diagnosed either as having Autism or Developmental Delays with characteristics of Autism, we are trained to use these therapies and techniques as tools of Sensory Integration to teach them ways of coping with, controlling, and translating into usable form the never ending barrage of the signals of their senses. Our kids live in a world in which they are held captive by the unrelenting power of those out of control signals, and I view the role of the teachers, therapists and assistants at CCNS as that of the benevolent warden holding the enumerable keys to the multitude of locks that keep that child imprisoned within the confines of his or her own cell.
The job of the staff at CCNS is to keep trying those keys of Sensory Integration until the locks are opened, the fetters are broken, and the child is set free. Though we do not proclaim to “cure” Autism, we do empower the child and his family with adaptations and coping skills to meet the challenges of the everyday world, challenges of a Hell that we who are not on the Autism Spectrum cannot even begin to imagine. To loosely paraphrase my beloved Mentor and friend, Lorna Jean King, the Founder of the Children’s Center for Neurodevelopmental Studies and pioneer of the use of Sensory Integration for children with Autism, our role is that of a detective, watching, observing, and noting as we attempt to get inside each child and determine what makes him tick, what sets him off, what makes him smile as well as what makes him cry. Then we empower him with the appropriate techniques that he needs to form new patterns and brain pathways while integrating within himself the mastery over those sensory signals instead of being a slave to them.
That is the ideal picture. The “ideal” is seldom totally achieved, but the observable changes produced by the use of Lorna’s wisdom and knowledge have proven to me to be nothing short of miraculous. After a long, noble struggle with a painful illness, Lorna Jean King peacefully passed away November 4, 2006 at the ripe old age of 83.
The song quoted at the start of my article took on a whole new meaning for me on the morning of Monday, November 6, 2006. We had only minutes earlier learned of Lorna’s passing. At the end of our Occupational Therapy Group session, with the kids lying on their bellies on mats surrounded by therapists and staff gently massaging them by rolling big therapy balls on their backs, we quietly sang the words to this familiar, calming transitional song. I found myself actually hearing the words for the first time as a rush of emotion engulfed me. Even though we were inside the Therapy Room, I felt a breeze stir with the familiar presence of Lorna, as close as if she were standing right there, looking over my shoulder and admiring the fruits of her life’s work and dedication to the manifestation of “her dream”, as she was known for calling CCNS. Suddenly I felt the light touch of her gentle hand on my shoulder. I turned around quickly, fully expecting to see Lorna smiling and nodding, singing along to the music with us. With ears other than my physical ears I could actually hear her voice. Her presence was that close, that palpable, and I was once again touched by her wisdom, knowledge and guidance as she said “Goodbye, for now, until we meet again”, but also “hello”. As quickly as I had felt her there, she was gone, but she had left me with a last gift that will forever impact my journey.
In that split second I had a profound glimpse of immortality and a new clarity of awareness of how one life can influence thousands, of how the ripples of a stone being tossed into the water can go on and on making waves and touching people and places beyond anyone’s knowing. I KNEW then, by discovery and agape in that brief moment of understanding, that the Spirit and Soul IS immortal, eternal and that “knowing” has been tucked away as one of my personal keys which my experiences with the incredible being of Lorna Jean King has given me to open those locks which keep me imprisoned as well. This encounter gave me hope and touched me in a way that expanded and forever changed my understanding of the eternalness of consciousness, Soul and Spirit, yet sadly, there is no way for me to pass that wonder and comfort on to those who have lost a cherished loved one to death of the physical body. Even in death, Lorna continues to live her often repeated mantra of “Help for today, hope for tomorrow”.
No matter how far I travel along this Path of Return, I hope I never lose my sense of awe and wonder at how “things’ work. When I moved to Phoenix four and a half years ago, I had no inkling of the doors that would open to me. Oh yes, I was anticipating great events happening within my Spiritual life as Dr. Strickler and Dianne were here, but as far as employment went, I was hoping to just find a job that would pay me enough to get by while I devoted my time and energies to my Spiritual Path. In my mind set at that time, my professional life and Spiritual life were separate entities. Dr. Strickler had stressed over the years that our growth and development spiritually would be reflected in our everyday experiences within life and that the Lord of Life would speak to us through the fabric of the world, people, and experiences around us. I heard his words, but must admit I was lacking in true understanding. Unbeknownst to me, my journey to Phoenix would bring me into physical contact with the woman who had become my Mentor through her teachings some fourteen years earlier, oddly enough, or perhaps not so “oddly enough”, at the same time I had “bumped into” Dr. Strickler at a Psychic Fair at the Aquarian Church in Naples, Florida.
While teaching in Florida in 1992, I was presented with quite a challenging class. My dear friend and Occupational Therapist had been doing some research into the use of Sensory Integration techniques presented by a woman named Lorna Jean King. In a day and age where we were not even permitted to utter “the A Word”, Autism, in a public meeting, we set up a classroom replete with swings, lotion rubs, brushing, trampolines for jumping, weighted vests and even a “ball bath” just to name a few of the techniques we incorporated. All of the kids, whether diagnosed as having Autism or not, became calmer, more focused, and better able to control of their impulses. Though I have no Empirical Evidence of this, kid’s I.Q. scores increased to the point that the school psychologist questioned what in the world we were doing in there! Somehow word got around that the class was set up using techniques of “Sensory Integration”, which at that time was basically considered New Age Voodoo, and we were both called on the carpet, warned sternly to cease and desist, and if we did not, we would be looking for employment elsewhere.
My friend bravely packed her bags, basically told them to quote "go F### themselves", and set off to establish a private treatment facility of her own based on Sensory Integration, specializing in Auditory Integration. I, being not nearly so brave nor sure of myself, bit the bullet and stayed locked in the confines of the traditional setting. I AM brave enough now though to admit that I continued to be a “closet” user of Sensory Integration, secretly behind closed doors using the techniques I had learned from the genius of Lorna Jean King, much as I considered myself a “Closet Qabalist” back in those days. Those techniques of Sensory Integration became the cornerstone embedded within the methods throughout in my career as an educator of special needs students, much as that taught to me by Dr. Strickler grew within my Spiritual Life. When questioned about some of the “measurable” successes of the kids I had worked with, I just laughed and smiled and said, “Oh, I just teach them the test.” In retrospect, I was giving them the tools to break the code to the test. I never really understood what I was saying until now, just one example of how the Lord of Life speaks through us.
When I got to Phoenix in May of 2002, I sent out my resume on line and got quick results. My first interview was with a private school that offered me a reasonable salary, but had very strict, prescribed methods of teaching within the school that went counter to that which I knew worked with kids. As I drove home pondering the horrific future of waking up each day to go to a job that was even more restrictive than in my past, I asked for guidance and an opening to be able to expand my professional as well as spiritual life. The ringing phone as I entered my apartment was in direct response to my plea, though I didn’t have a clue!
What I would term in the tight-assed, educational circles as a non-professional, yet very excited, enthusiastic voice hurriedly said, “Christine Ford? Please tell me you haven’t accepted a teaching position yet.” When I responded that I had interviewed and probably would be accepting the position tomorrow, the voice asked me PLEASE to come and interview there before making my decision. I was given directions to the Children’s Center for Neurodevelopmental Studies by the enthusiastic, still unnamed voice. As I drove there, I remained oblivious to the whirlings of the energy that was set into motion. Amazing! Still is!
Arriving at the Center, I was handed a brochure by the receptionist. I had barely a second to glance at it, but my attention was captured by a small picture in the corner of an elderly woman with the name printed under it, Lorna Jean King. Oh come on, couldn’t be, I remember myself thinking as the door opened and the owner of that enthusiastic voice extended her hand and said, “You must be Christine. I’m Kay Marie King. Welcome to the Center.”
I jokingly, or so I thought, said, “Gee, you aren’t related to Lorna Jean King, are you?” I will never be able to describe the “clunk” of gears locking into place or the feeling of “Oh My God” that overwhelmed me with her response. “Actually, I’m her daughter. She’s at lunch right now, but if you want to stick around she’ll be back soon. She is the Founder and Director of the Center. Why do you ask?”
Well. I was a goner! Little did Kay Marie know that with those words spoken, I was there, I was “home”, even before she showed me the place or we discussed salary. To have come cross country to a town where I knew no one and had no idea of where to go or what to do for employment, and to land right in the lap of the Children’s Center founded and run by The Lorna Jean King, which I had no idea even existed, went to the top of my list of miracles I had been blessed by, second only to my physical meeting of Dr. Strickler in 1992.
In April, 2006, at the annual Miles of Smiles benefit fund raiser for The Children’s Center, I was honored to be presented the first annual “Lorna Jean King Teacher of the Year Award” by none other than THE Lorna Jean King herself. Just over the past two weeks since her passing it has occurred to me that no other teacher in the history of this world will ever have the privilege of being handed that award by Lorna Jean King personally in this physical plane of existence. There is only one, and that one is me. Again, amazing. In contemplating my time spent with her, the knowledge and experiences I have gained, and the impact she has made not only on me, my kids, the school, and the entire world of Sensory Integration, I am humbled and thankful for being lead to the place that I needed to be in, for the pushes and nudges along the way, for the ever increasing ability to hear those non physical words and beckonings and the courage to follow them.
It’s a strange, strange world we live in physically. Wars, turmoil, spiraling out of control lies and deceit shaping the news we hear daily while we scurry unthinkingly from job to home, sleep to work, seldom stopping to ponder why we are here and what purpose we serve. For all the negativity and sadness, for all the sorrow and darkness, there are counter balances of light and love persevering and shining through within our lives, guiding us, touching us, and teaching us; both physical and nonphysical Teachers, Mentors and friends to ignite the sparks within us, to add fuel to stoke the flame and to stand back to watch us glow in our own right as we take up the torch and move onward to spread the Truth and Light to others in the never ending spiral of the Journey on the Path of Return.
In this Thanksgiving Edition of Spiritual Climate I acknowledge and give thanks for my two Mentors and friends, one now nonphysical, Lorna Jean King, and the other still very much alive in this plane, Dr. David Strickler. Because of the untiring efforts of you both, there is hope, there is truth and there is light brought into this manifest world that will never be extinguished, but will continue to grow and multiply as the seeds of your words and teachings take root and flourish.
May your own life be blessed with the recognition of the teachings of The One as It manifests through the mundane, sometimes seemingly futile existence of your everyday life, and may you find the courage to act upon that which you are given to fan your own tiny spark into an ever growing blaze of Light and Life.