Reflections of and on a probably Asperger's parent parenting an Asperger's kid (or 2)!

dragon pups

dragon pups

Sunday, October 26, 2014

AEE conference- Professional Development

About a month ago I ran across a reference to the Association for Experiential Education.  I had heard of it before, but this time was "closer to home".  The international conference was to be held near my parents' home, on a weekend that I was already free from parenting responsibilities.  It just felt like an opportunity that could not be missed.  

So, I didn't miss it.  I was able to go for only one day, not the whole conference, but that's still something.  So, I had new business cards made, cleared the calendar days, changed the oil in my car, and drove down.

Funny thing about professional development - it's more than just professional.  Maybe it has to do with my own sense of connectedness and synchronicity, or maybe it has to do with this "experiential education" industry, or maybe it's that your "professional" self is just an expression of your divinely designated responsibilities to humanity... but I certainly had personal development as well as learning a whole lot about this profession.

So I am going recall, to reflect, to try to process...

The closing event was an award to the "facilitator of the year" - who (naturally) turned out to be an interesting character.  What struck me is how he described that he "trusted the process" of experience, of letting time and experience work together to teach, to let the learning happen.  He told some stories to sum up his experience, and said that while he hadn't figured out why these stories were important yet, he knew that time would show him why...

I trust...
Experience IS the best teacher...

The night before the event, I had an odd dream, about changing jobs, about working in a prison undercover (I had watched Magnum P.I.), and just before I woke, as my body struggled to pull my mind out of that reality into the stretching and bodily awareness of my bed, I literally ran back into the "room" I had been in and yelled, "I have an idea!  We need to establish a Family Adventure Therapy Program!"  My head visualized it as some Big Key, Primary Component.  I woke incredulous.  I am not a therapist.  I am a teacher.  I have no experience, background, or reference for that idea.

I had scoured the website, seeking this details that would allow me to negotiate the space of the event successfully - maps of classroom/ meeting rooms, mention of registration hours, where to park... didn't find it.  So I went over an hour early.  Turns out it was a straight shot, easy to find, clearly marked, and Starbucks was open.

I perused the workshop listings.  I had made the final emotional commitment to coming because one workshop was specifically about working with Autism.  There were 2 other time slots to fill.  I found one about assessment.  I feel like assessment is the key "sticking point" that makes schooling ineffective.  I also feel like we need better vocabulary to describe what we see when we assess.  At the very end of the listing a workshop was listed: "Family Enrichment Adventure Therapy: FEAT".  Was that really relevant to me?

Assessment workshop: VERY useful, very insightful.  Made an immediate link with Sensory Processing language, found a new resource.  Also gained insight into how those decisions to "read" a group and choose a good catalyst for change (the next challenge activity) were made.  The assessment had to do with the facilitator goals (the end objective), but it also was about what classroom teachers call "ongoing assessment" - figuring out where a student is "at".  It also was clear that the language they used to assess is similar to what I do with sensory awareness with swim students.  I speak to my observation/ feeling, suggesting a vocabulary for the learner, and then invite them to share their differences in perception (allow myself to be wrong)... letting the learner own their learned experience. The instructor was specific about not using the word "why", but instead "how would you describe" or "what do you think happened".  He felt "why" was too big, too open-ended... I have always felt like "why" is the elephant in the room - the one thing people won't ask.  I also learned 2 new activities.  I also was called out on being an "autism mom" and trying to facilitate surprise and re-label risk.

ActivatEE session: it was unclear what that would be, but everyone was invited.  It turned out to be EPIC.  5 general members were invited to have their 5 minutes of platform, their 5 minutes to inspire, their 5 minutes to be heard.  It was moving.  Gender equality, authenticity to self, authentic assessment, finding motivation in disaster, inspired insightfulness...  great storytelling, great stories.  It makes me want to be heard too!  I know what I have to say is important, even if I am not sure what needs to be said yet.  I even ran into (by chance?) the organization's CEO while getting directions to lunch, who agreed that my passion for learning outside the classroom would be well met in the ActivatEE format.

Lunch: found a pub in town, got to see a community taking care of itself - playing old country music for a regular customer, watching the dynamic of people caring for people...  and good fried pickles.

Autism workshop: one of the presenters was one of the pediatricians who helped to rewrite the DSM and define what autism is.  He spoke of the spectrum, of outliers, and providing adequate supports without functionality labels.  He has been running a camp for autistic people for 10+ years, and kept his organization at a state level out of the political debates that rage in the Autism Community.  He just helps people.  The co-presenter demonstrated exactly how common challenge activities can be used to facilitate exactly skills and norms that we (neurotypical people) value in behavior (commonly called Social Skills).  I feel so strongly that I want to be a PART of THAT!! I do not understand how, but again, my passion for stopping the pounding of square pegs into round holes, for embracing the infinite diversity of humanity, for inclusion and understanding is loud enough to be recognized, visible to others.  I did feel like the conversation about sensory processing can be approached from different angles that generate more of a sense of identification, of shared experience.  I also think that we are still down-playing the actuality of the "6th sense"/ psychic intuitiveness that people with autism experience.  I can also see that I am not researching or discovering "new" ideas, but I am putting them together is new ways, seeing pictures others don't, and those insights are helpful to others.  After the session I spoke to a participant about "islands of information" and redirecting obsessive concerns to constructive ends.  I am not even sure what I told her, but it resonated with her about a challenge she was facing.

3rd workshop: I had talked myself out of going to the FEAT workshop, but in the Autism workshop I heard someone talking about how great the presenters were.  I followed my intuition.  Valuable lessons. For whatever reason, I was very insecure in this workshop.  I guess I felt very out of my element. I was called on mothering and teaching behaviors that I reverted to instinctively and unconsciously.  I felt ashamed, but grateful to be taught.  I was reminded to let other people keep their struggles. I was reminded that I can lead a horse to water, but I can't make him drink... and that a good facilitator creates thirst.  I learned some new activities with new tools, and was reminded of my own abilities and skills with ropes.  Somehow the presenter recognized that I was drawn there by intuition, and he made a point of connecting with me personally at the end of the session.  I do not know yet why this is important, but I know I was overwhelmed to the point of tears when he spoke with me. He reminded me that he is not a "therapist". There is something I still need to "find".

I am still confident that I needed to BE at that conference.  I know that I was rattled by the observations about my parenting and teaching.  I know that I was overcome with passion to make the world a better place.  I know I met people that will prove to be important connections.  I know that for me, like many there, the organization will be an emotional "home".  

I do not understand yet how.  There are more pieces that need to settle in... 

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