After writing about accommodations last week, I wanted to clarify a few details that occurred to me this past week. Adaptations, tools, and hacks are often viewed as excuses. Excuses are, in actuality, a defense mechanism and the antithesis of ownership. "No, I can't because" means "I won't try" or "I don't want to try."
Whereas adaptations or accommodations are the things that allow people to do "the thing" despite their challenges. These folks don't blame - they want to own everything - including their challenges, struggles, failures, and subsequent triumphs.
To be clear, "no, I can't" excuses are often based on pathologizing neurodiverse diagnoses, previous experiences, and conditioning - which makes folks believe that they sincerely cannot - it is impossible.
Victim mentality is a coping mechanism grounded in a negative view of life that influences everything and is usually a trauma response. Blaming someone or something for their inaction becomes unconsciously habitual. Which subsequently leads to perceived incompetence - "I suck at everything."
This behavior comes from an understanding that life happens to them, and they have no control over outcomes. Refusal to try is the only way to achieve autonomy and keep their internal dialog intact. It becomes second nature to accuse an outside force and to refuse responsibility. Consequently, they don't want to seek a way forward - because it may dissolve their foundational belief and closely held identity that they are incompetent.
Perceived incompetence is a learned behavior. And like anything else, it can be unlearned through hard work, awareness, and persistence. Allowing your true self to emerge without restrictions or masks - is the first step. Your labels and trauma do not negatively define you - they are simply another piece of you that make you uniquely awesome. Developing a positive mindset about yourself, others, and the world, in general, is essential. Instead of, "I can't because..." say, "I can try with these accommodations."
No excuses. I am purely me (and you are purely you) - responsible for setting boundaries, designing hacks and tools that work for me, and living authentically. Because, when more of us are accountable for ourselves and our behaviors and work through all of our "shit," the universe will respond with gratitude.
Weekly Creative Meditation
We have had a ton of fun and adventures at both Centers this past week. Karen and Trader are settling into DRC-East and getting to know everyone there.
DRC-East is moving from North Lawrence to 47 Perkins Rd. in Massena this coming weekend. We need people power more than anything! There are many moving pieces to this endeavor (we have things stored in various places). Please get in touch if you can join us for this opportunity that celebrates community, connection and FUN! Thank you!
As someone who recognized that I identify as neurodivergent decidedly later in life, I am just beginning to navigate through the many layers of what that means to me and the people I share my life with.
After spending the past 57 years masking my sensitivities and "odd" quirks and pushing through the acute discomfort (and "alien-ness"), I have felt my entire life, I find myself struggling to ask for (insist on) the accommodations I need to feel whole. I am also discovering that people don't really believe or understand me because they have witnessed my facade of "OK-ness" for so long.
Firstly I understand that saying someone needs accommodation creates the illusion that they need to be fixed. This couldn't be farther from the truth. We are not ill or broken - our brains just work differently. In general, we are more sensitive to inputs - all the noise, tastes, smells, physical touch, emotions, and visuals. I won't delve into how all those things are often felt as direct hits on our nervous systems. However, I will say I thought my utter exhaustion at the end of each day was natural. I am just now figuring out it is actually the intense response to being assaulted from every direction, every minute of every day.
Secondly, to some, accommodations also represent inconvenience. To them, it just seems hard or impossible to create an environment where everyone is heard, supported, and, above all, comfortable. Many neurodiverse folks turn to coping mechanisms that are unhealthy or straight-up dangerous in direct response to this inflexibility and feelings of societal disconnection.
I suppose the irony here is that I work hard to create a safe space, where connection and accommodations are the key elements, for the people around me and totally ignore my need for the same things. This all goes back to my seeming inability to ask for what I need, which is, I am just now realizing, is directly related to my feelings of guilt - I identify as the caregiver, fixer, and doer.
Accommodations should only be seen as natural adaptations, hacks, or modifications with no stigma or judgment (or guilt). Adaptive technology and research into our neurodivergent brains have come a long way. Now comes the hard work of changing the culture to recognize the benefits of accommodations for all of us. No, we are not "cheating," we are simply asking to use the available tools to live our best (whole, healthy) lives.
*I am currently reading Divergent Minds by Jenara Nerenberg. It has been most helpful on so many levels. I highly recommend it to anyone who suspects they may have a "divergent mind" or know people who do. The North Country Library system currently has two copies.
Scenes from DRC-Canton & DRC-East this past week
Weekly Creative Meditation
We have had two very full weeks at DRC-Canton and are settling into our schedule with tons going on every day.
We are super excited that our new lead staff and mentor, Karen Gagne, is arriving from Vermont on Tuesday evening. I will be there to introduce her to the DRC- East Crew this Wednesday.
Karen will be looking for a place to stay until she finds something more permanent. If you have any leads, please get in touch.
The DRC-East facility is grateful for the use of the Life in His Arms Church until September 29th.
DRC-East will be moving to Massena on October 1st, and we need help. There are large pieces of furniture in Canton, many items in Parishville at a board member's home, and all of the stuff still in the church in North Lawrence. We are looking for trucks or large vehicles and people power to help with this massive undertaking. Please let me know if you are able to help. Thank you!
Many wonder what exactly my job entails considering I do not claim the title of teacher in this non-compulsory, non-coercive, educational environment, where I don't tell kids what to do or when and how to do it.
Beyond the administrative duties that honestly take up more than the equivalent of a full-time position, as someone who naturally thinks outside the box to problem-solve, my day-to-day responsibilities revolve around mentoring, listening, and seeking out opportunities, resources, and materials. Then I step back (get the hell out of the way) to observe the implementation of the ideas generated from those conversations.
I don't ever turn off that piece of my essential self. Every conversation is fodder for my brain to begin working on possibilities. I often have to stop mid-stream and consciously remember to ask the person I am speaking with if they actually want my help or are simply venting.
Sometimes I see the results of my work, but often, I don't. Yesterday, I did. I received a text from someone I spoke with back in May who expressed concern about their 20-something child - he didn't seem to have direction and was floundering. But, the one thing he was fascinated with was medicine. He had considered going to college and majoring in pre-med.; however, that entire process seemed daunting (and expensive). I suggested they look into the process of becoming an EMT. It would offer the opportunity to jump into the medical field - feet first to discover if it is something they want to pursue to the next level.
Well, he did just that. He is enrolled in a program while working for the ambulance service that offers it. Eventually, they will also train him to become a paramedic if that is what he wants to do. He is super excited to begin this journey, and his parent is happy and relieved that he is no longer floundering.
I see myself as a sounding board - someone with a different perspective and experience to bounce ideas off. I don't solve problems so much as guide folks to think about a situation differently - in ways that had not occurred before because they were too deeply entrenched in the puzzle. As the old axiom suggests - "you can't see the forest - for the trees."
But, also "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." Within the culture of trust and respect that DRC is built upon, I can only ever listen and offer suggestions. What folks do with those ideas - is totally up to them.
A few photos from this week at Canton & East
Weekly Creative Meditation
We just finished our first week. DRC-Canton is humming with 23 participants. They created a list of classes, projects, and activities - now organized into a schedule that can be found in a Google Calendar on the website.
DRC-East continues to evolve. We met for the first day last Wednesday and will get together a second time this Wednesday.
We will sign the lease for our new space in Massena this coming week and can move in on October 1st.
Additionally, I am delighted to introduce Karen Gagne, our new DRC-East Lead Staff and Mentor, who will start on September 21st.
Karen first joined the DRC board in 2014, and from that moment, she has been our most vocal and passionate supporter. In 2017, she left academia after over twenty-five of teaching, mentoring, and advising young people to move home to Vermont. Nonetheless, even after moving out of state, Karen maintained her head cheer-leading role from a distance.
Karen comes to us with a BA in Social Science (from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA - the school both of my children attended), a MA, and a PhD in Sociology (from SUNY Binghamton), along with a plethora of experience working with youth of all ages.
However, when I asked her personal reference to tell me why Karen is the right choice to lead DRC-East, she immediately began to list Karen's nonacademic attributes leading with her extraordinary levels of compassion and empathy.
Karen is super happy to move back to the NoCo with her dog, Trader (who came from the Potsdam Humane Society), after being away for five years. She is looking forward to meeting all the East Peeps and taking a deep dive into everything they are excited about exploring.
In her words, "I spent my life in school, either as a student or teacher. One day I said it is time for a change."
Welcome back to DRC, Karen! Where school is absolutely optional!
Free play is often labeled frivolous - a pastime for leisure activity after the "work" has been finished. Within that, as a society, we totally discount and discard the necessity of unstructured, undirected play - not only for kids but for us all.
Through free play, children have the unbound opportunity to explore the world around them - as well as their internal landscape. Kids who have unlimited time to play know themselves on a profound level. They independently discover how they learn best through experimentation and exploration. This means they know what they like and what makes them cringe and are not afraid to speak up for themselves. And it proves that learning is natural.
These past three weeks, I was thrown back into this absolute reality. Beyond a morning check-in, to remind them of our one rule - respect yourself, each other, and this place - kids were in charge of their day - until cleanup.
I witnessed (and occasionally assisted in) baking, art, clay, painting, and sewing projects - then stood back and watched the nonstop imaginative action: Legos, plastic animals (and bugs, snakes, and spiders), snap circuit sets, matchbox cars, Lincoln Logs, pretend weddings (with music), made-up live-action video games (and I mean LIVE - including running and wrestling), and smashing coal found in the backyard to try to turn into diamonds.
These kids might not be able to articulate what they learned - either about themselves or the world in general - but man, they had a blast and will remember it as an essential part of their childhood.
After years of watching kids play, I would make an educated guess that humans evolved to learn (at least partly) kinesthetically. However, that has been squashed, for the most part, by our system because actively encouraging a bunch of squirmy, loud, active children in their chaotic, exploratory, and experimental pursuits is not conducive to a "sit down and be quiet" learning environment. I am deeply saddened by how much has been lost - not the least of which is the knowledge that learning is an absolute joy.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Summer Program was an absolute hit! We are so excited that two of our summer kids will be joining our "regular" crew. And families are asking if we will have programming during the February, Mid-Winter and April, Spring Breaks. My answer is always, "if we have staffing," (because, I absolutely need those breaks - to rest and catch up!)
DRC East News - There are lots of changes in the works for DRC_East. As I have mentioned (teased), the Center will be moving from North Lawrence to Massena due to unforeseen complications. The new facility is owned by the Massena Housing Authority and is absolutely perfect for our needs. Unfortunately, we can not begin the lease until October 1st.
In other East News, Angie, our lead staff and mentor has decided not to renew her contract. We are grateful for her contributions this past year and wish her the best. The search to fill that position has begun, and should have news soon. In the meantime, to get us over the initial bumps, the Pastor of the church has graciously said the East crew can meet occasionally in that space.
DRC-Canton is starting with a full roster. We are all looking forward to another amazing year of exploring all of the possibilities together.
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