The holidays are here! With the return of holidays comes the return of holiday parties. Whether it's holiday parties with your family work events--there is a large possibility that you may be attending a party where a neurodivergent child is in attendance.
Let's start by defining that word neurodiverse or neurodivergent--by this I mean Autism, ADHD, OCD, Tourette's--essentially, any sort of diagnosis in which the brain operates outside of "typical".
Here are some tips for hosting a party OR best practices when attending a party where neurodiverse individuals or their parents are present.
Remove Social Skill Expectations
Let's define what I mean by this--social skills include but are not limited to eye contact, greetings, appropriate vocal tone volume, saying "yes sir" --we have a whole lot of them. I'm in the Bible Belt and the list of social skill expectations are insane (yes, I must start every topic with a soft, fluffy "how are you" before getting into my point--it's deeply ingrained in me.)
The unfortunate thing about social skills, is that they're one of the most impacted in our neurodivergent populations AND they're a set of rules made by neurotypical individuals.
Before attending or hosting a party with someone who is neurodivergent, rid your brain of those expectations.
*Do let parents know it's OK if their child doesn't greet you. Reassure them that it's a safe space where their child can be most comfortable.
*Go find what the child is playing with and comment on it--show them you see them.
*Remember this statement: it is not a child's responsibility to meet our social needs.
*Request the child make eye contact with you
*Expect a standard greeting, departure statement, etc.
Ask Questions, Don't Give Unsolicited Advice
Social media and the internet have made "case studies" specific to neurodivergent populations easily accessible. We have all heard stories about "the one Autistic individual that benefited from the certain type of therapy." Although very well intended, bringing up these topics can make a parent or individual feel like the underlying message is "what you're doing isn't enough."
*Ask questions--this is such a great way to learn about different approaches and it gives the parents a safe space to talk
*Don't give your opinion on medication, therapies, etc.
*Don't ask if they've tried **insert random treatment here*. Again, that's implying they need to be doing something.
Enjoy the Individual!
When you strip your mind of neurotypical expectations and what you view as a "normal conversation" or "normal party behavior", it leaves this amazingly beautiful space in your brain where you can see that individual for who they are.
*If they have a communication device, use it! Type out something you'd like to say on it. Have them show you it. What a cool bonding activity!
*If a child has echolalia or disorganized speech? Listen to it. Listen to their vocal changes. Ask them to tell you more. This exchange is just as meaningful as words back and forth to that individual.
*Enjoy stripping yourself of the "typical" mold. You'll find that typical is pretty boring!
*Just because you're celebrating that individual doesn't mean we should insert toxic positivity here. I had someone say "well at least it's not brain cancer" once to me about my child with ADHD. Again, beautifully intended, but it's never OK to say "this is better than this".
Be Proud of Yourself
I want to end this semi-preachery blog with a positive note: you should be proud of yourself for reading this and for taking steps to be neurodiversity embracing. A large amount of our population is relying on us to make this world a safe, inclusive, and embracing place and you're doing your part.
Wishing you a happy and inclusive holiday!