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Five Modifications to General Admission Programming to Support Neurodivergent Families

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When I was more actively engaged with the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) community in the Bay Area, in some ways, I got a bit spoiled. The best NVC practitioners and teachers were proficient at asking for what they wanted, even to the level of how they wanted conversations to flow.

For a literal thinker, it provided rare social ease to be around people who were direct.

I recently spoke with Jared Finkelstein, a Certified Trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication and a Collaborative Trainer with BayNVC who also has experience at the Summer Institute for the Gifted, about his work supporting Family Heart Camps.

Jared explained that NVC and Open Space Technology combine to encourage freedom and autonomy for all ages, with opportunities for self-reflection and feedback about how our actions lead to impacts. The community camps allow for a variety of offerings, depending on the passions of the kids and parents involved.

One concept I recall from Open Space Technology is the  “Law of Two Feet”,  where you are always at choice to leave if you aren’t interested. For whatever reason, I often left workshops (and even retreats) early.

Usually, I would find one person to whom I would say good-bye. One trainer, a mentor in my prison teaching, offered me the reflection that I was needing “integration” — time to take in what a retreat had brought up for me.

But I imagine that something else was true for me too. Nothing compares to being around true peers, and I inevitably sought out my favorite people. Still, to support you and your neurodiverse family in staying a little bit longer, here are some ideas:

1. Avoid scented products.

If you can smell something, that is because a volatile organic compound flew threw the air into your nose. This is chemical pollution. Unless specifically requested by everybody in an air space (which has never happened), avoid scented products. (Hat tip to Autism Women’s Network for this reminder).

2. Monitor sounds.

As far as sound, make the volume as much as needed, and no more. Aim for one sound source at a time. Turn off televisions.

3. Allow for choice in how one participates in the physical space.

Will your activity fail if everybody isn’t sitting in a perfect circle? Re-plan, because some people may want their physical closeness to match their authentic interest, and they need to participate in their own way.

4. Allow for varied attention.

Do you require a seven minute monologue to make your point? Prepare to improvise, because you may face questions. You will be judged by how you flexibly allow for waves of attention. There is no such thing as demanded attention, only resentment.

5. Allow for restorative practices.

People bump toes and heads. Allow time to mourn unmet needs, and to renegotiate agreements with care based on new information. You don’t have to be perfectly prepared, just prepared to be flexible.

I want more ideas. What would help your family be able to better participate at a public event?

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Chris March 18, 2015, 8:13 am

    Wow – I feel so much better about never being able to stay at retreats or full conference days! 🙂 I think that flexibility is key – and breaks. For me, I need frequent breaks – 45 minutes is my limit without needing to pop up and walk around. Often that means getting up and creeping out as unobtrusively as possible, but I wish that people would recognize that it’s hard for some of us to go long stretches without a break. My favorite events are the ones where people lay flexible ground rules – that it’s okay to leave and return. This is a great topic – yet another example of something I’ve felt awkward about – like I’m the only one with the issue! Realizing that others struggle with these things makes me feel much better. Thanks!

  • byamtich March 18, 2015, 8:28 am

    Yes to flexibility! It can be so hard to go long stretches without a break. For me also, it feels comforting to know others have similar experiences.
    “It’s okay to leave and return” is part of a larger plan of empowerment and acceptance: “It’s ok to do whatever works for you, considering all of the relevant needs.”
    The values involved in attempting to be “unobstrusive” show a care and consideration for others, and I am getting how much you want to direct that care towards yourself as well.
    Thanks for your comment!

  • Jade March 25, 2015, 8:12 pm

    Yes! I remember leaving a workshop with you and feeling so liberated! Good post. 🙂

    • byamtich March 26, 2015, 7:45 am

      Thanks Jade! This work, on a good day, can sure be freeing.

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