Oh The Insanity!
An adult visitor to Talking Stick proclaimed the other day, “I get it. You treat the kids like adults, the same way you would treat adults.” To which I replied, “Yes. But adults in an insane asylum.” At the time one young person was pretending to be a zombie while another screamed and ran away, someone else was upset because a friend had stolen her imaginary (as in invisible, not there in reality) “treasure”, and yet another had arrived at the doorway covered in a sheet demanding that someone roll him up in it.
I have been impressed by the quality of this visitor’s observations and questions and appreciated what I think he meant by his comment. We treat participants with respect, we include them in decisions, what they want to do is foremost (after safety) and it is the adults’ job to facilitate the process, provide resources, and keep it safe. I explained to him later that I meant no disrespect to the mentally ill or young people. I was simply pointing out that our participants do not behave like average adults as they do not have the same level of development in terms of physical and cognitive skills that come with age and experience. In addition, they are not stifled by the same social mores that prevent most adults from playing zombie, feeling passionate about the imaginary, and following through on what I’m sure is all our wish, the be tightly rolled up in a sheet.
At Talking Stick, we meet people where they are at and avoid expectations of behavior that are generalized and based on inaccurate interpretations of motivation. Someone might be stepping on another participant’s painting because they want to see the prints of their shoes, or because they are mad at the artist for stealing their imaginary treasure earlier and want revenge, or they just want to see what happens when so-and-so is provoked. Or maybe it is something else altogether, but it helps to ask (after stopping them) why they were doing what they were doing. If we were to treat the person as an adult, we would very quickly determine that there was something very different about them than the average adult. We might think that there was something unusual about their brain and change our expectations of their behavior. If we did not change our expectations of their behavior accordingly, we would get very upset and have a hard time working with them.
Sometimes, I have fun stepping back and imagining that the young people around me are adults. What we would think of an adult who hid in a chest, saved seats by spreading their whole body across three chairs, or joyfully threw sand in the air? What if adults had the same lack of self-consciousness when they perform a random cartwheel. Or, if adults had not experienced a childhood during which self-expression was discouraged on a daily basis. What kinds of things would that free them up to do?