So, I have spent the last 4 days working with professionals of the challenge course industry. I have learned SO very much and am overwhelmed with thought.
1) THERE IS A WHOLE INDUSTRY DEVOTED TO THIS!!! Crazy! This is the 20th anniversary of their professional organization, so when I was little there were already enough people doing this work to warrant a professional organization. At this conference they honored their founders, the men (and a few women) who have spent a life building and operating safe places for people to experience life changing challenge. It was an interesting collection of people. Therapists who use the challenge course experience to trigger a change of perceptions, builders who create new ways to honor the safety of the trees they build on as well as ensure the safety of the people who use them, educators who use hands on experience to teach science and social skills (theorists on the science of play), the owners and operators of commercial adventure eco-tours, and the scientists who use these tools (like to study rain forest canopies, or neuroscience). It was practical and theoretical, deeply detailed, and just plain fun. Classes ran the gambit from tree biology, to coming up with ideas to use new toys, to the theory of therapy.
2) There are several theories about human dynamics/ relations. These theories provide a vocabulary, a framework, within which to discuss and think about how people interact. Naturally, I am deeply interested in these theories as they relate to the autistic mind/ brain. These are windows through which I, as a facilitator, am supposed to identify strategies by which I can guide/ lead a group to an outcome (like teach science, or help them find kinder ways to communicate, help them identify their personal motivations). There were several that I specifically explored in depth. One is a theory about Drama & Compassion, explained as a triangular model that seeks to identify the roles people play in relationships. Another was an exploration of the fight or flight response, identifying 5 topics that alleviate or trigger the response: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, fairness. One was the ETB model used in therapy: a triangle between emotion, thought and behavior in which one always affects the other two. Some underlying themes that all of these touch on are choice and uncertainty. Choice and uncertainty are heavily involved in the discussion about intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation/ value and how do we know where we want to go, or how to get there, or when we arrive. Even as I type this, my head has to sort through the pool of information, so this is a very short summary, with LOTS more depth addressed in each of these theories. These are really philosophical discussions on the nature of human-ness - and my head is wrangling with the inclusiveness of these theories. These professional educators and scientists have worked to label Universal Truths. My head seeks to identify if Autism and Asperger's fall within these Truths. I start from the place that obviously autistics/ Aspies ARE human, so are these truths comprehensive enough to include them? But there is the underlying tension/ thought/ fear that if these Truths are not inclusive of autistics/ Aspies - is that the root of the prejudice they experience in the world?
3)Once again, I learned that God puts you where He needs you when He needs you to be there. The very first day I was asked why I was in a particular class, and my answer was, "I have the nebulous gut feeling that you are going to say what I need to hear". It proved True, not only for that class, but for most of the ones I took, and for the time outside of class. I gained insights into my childhood experiences assisting event organization. I didn't know how much I already knew. All of these discussions about "human-ness" lead me to deep thoughtfulness about parenting - those specific questions like, "Am I doing a good job?" as well as those nebulous questions like, "What should good parenting look like? How do I build a new human? Or should I build a new human?" One of the gifts of this conference is that I was able to explore all these concepts with other people who are also parents (by no means ALL of them - there were plenty of young adults looking to build their skills, but also many who could bring their lifetime of experience to the their insights). One gentleman in particular allowed himself to spend nearly 2 hours talking to me about how these discussions about choice and certainty relate to parenting (not teaching other people's kids, but my own). I didn't find any answers, but I kinda feel like I am finally asking the right questions. I know that I am an Auditory Learner, and talking it out was what I needed - but it is so hard to find a willing audience sometimes ;) (too much "little professor" syndrome in me, I guess). There was more than one class that I left physically shaking because I was SO connected to the information shared, the "magic of the moment" so intense. MAN, did I ever need to be exactly where I was!!
4) I remembered/ learned/ found out how much of a Westerner I am. I didn't look out the plane window until landing in Vegas. The jagged mountains, the stripes of earth color, the clear lines of civilization (plumbing) were painfully familiar, reminded me of being younger. They seemed both fresh and familiar to me. I was so happy to have dry warm air, and to drive the car on the freeway (even if only 10 miles), and to eat El Pollo Loco and see See's Candies! It was renewing to touch the pieces of my past. So odd how the past touches the future... I am a Western Girl - and it has taken a long time to admit that!
5) I also learned that most airports nickel & dime you for WiFi, but Vegas gives it free. And that getting through security in Vegas is a B!#@$, so I better get something free! - especially since the only plugs/ outlets are on the floor and I have had to spend 4 hours sitting on the hard floor - the bathrooms in Vegas were not as clean as Nashville or Dallas/ Ft. Worth either...