Updated: Mar 11, 2019
Imagine you are in a room full of people. Each person is already in a group talking to people and having fun. Seeing everyone so excited and happy, you want to join them, but you can’t find a place. You try to join in conversations, but you can’t do more than just being acknowledged or say “hi!.” To me, this seems horrible.
Honestly, I have just as much difficulty as anyone else when it comes to joining a new group. It’s hard to talk to people, especially when they are already in a group. It’s simpler to stay with your own friends in comfortable conversation. However, as allies, it’s important for us to step outside our comfort zone and break that practice.
First off, we are all a team. A lot of the time we work together, and our goal as part of the Pragnya organization is the same. We strive to make sure that the kids we work with learn, have fun, and are more comfortable in neurotypical society. If we don’t even make an effort to get to know each other, it’s hard to work and accomplish together. Additionally, talking to allies we don’t know can give us new perspectives or ideas. We can learn a lot from each other, not just about working with Pragnya, but also about school, friendships, and life as a whole.
Most importantly, it is not only essential that we talk to each other but also that we include others in our conversations. If we can’t include each other, or notice when people are feeling left out, how can we ever even include the neurodiverse children who may be minimally verbal or non-verbal, or unable to fathom how to make their presence felt among us. As allies at PRAGNYA, we are all doing something that many of our neurotypical peers may be unaware of, we are learning to be there for, and understand our neurodiverse peers and for each other. By interacting with our neurodiverse friends, we are giving them an opportunity that they may not get anywhere else, of being accepted, of having friends among peers, of growing up together knowing that "different is delightful" and not something to be afraid of, ashamed of or even feel excluded, and all the while, we are growing as human beings alongside them, learning so much from them. It’s true that we talk to them and have fun with them during PRAGNYA sessions, but how about outside the organization and sessions? How many of us have taken the time to go sit with that student in school who eats by himself or herself or say more than a "Hi" to them when we see them or any other neurodiverse individual in other social settings. How many of us have a real friend we spend time with, call, or care about who is neurodiverse? In my opinion, the extra step is really what Pragnya is about. It's important that we include them in every aspect of our lives and not just on a session day. We need to be able to reach out, give them a hug, or continue talking to them, even if we know they may not be able to respond right away or verbally or interpret it the same way as us. We also need to use our actions to let them know what we always tell others: that we care about them and that they add value to our lives. We learn so much from them every time we meet them - how to be genuinely happy in everything we do and how to be open hearted. To do all this, we need to include and engage mindfully, always being aware that the little things we do speak the loudest. It’s harder for neurodiverse children to explain that they feel left out. They have a very small voice, and if we don’t make an effort, we’ll never hear it. Being a teenager, myself, I understand that sometimes it feels like everything I do is correct, but being an Ally and seeing my fellow allies, and our neurodiverse friends, I have become more aware of myself as a person and the energy I send out through everything I do and the larger influence that I have on people. The first step to becoming aware of people’s emotions, is to take the focus out of ourselves and become aware of their presence and their emotions in the first place, whether they are neurotypical or neurodiverse. Even if it’s hard or feels awkward or weird, we need to get out of our comfort-zones of our own safety circles and reach out to bring more people into it. Let us take the first step to be more inclusive and to make sure that everyone is included in conversations that we have or moments that we share, neurotypical and neuordiverse peers alike....
So, there’s work to be done, steps to be taken, and progress to me made. Hopefully, at school, or the next social occasion, or the next session or at the next ally bonding, we’ll all be much more open-minded and open-hearted. :)