Posted by: Nancy | July 17, 2011

“Unabashedly playful”

I attended a conference last week with Don Meyer, author and speaker and developer of programs for families with developmentally disabled individuals.

Don was in Kansas City to teach the techniques of running workshops for the siblings of developmentally disabled people. I expected to hear about issues of guardianship, health concerns, behavioral issues, overwhelming concern for challenges that loom large in so many families.

I had no idea it would be such a joy.

Don’s presentations are a delight. He is exuberant and funny, using humor and silliness.

He had the crowd of about 150 people do an exercise, without speaking, to sort ourselves into teams of “one’s,” “two’s” and “three’s.” The skeptical crowd got up reluctantly, some members heading for the doorways to slink out, but within three minutes, we were not only laughing out loud but holding hands in long conga-lines winding through the conference room, circling the round tables neatly organized. The simple handshake exercise forged bonds.

What did all this have to do with dealing with the many challenges of caring for a developmentally disabled family member?

Nothing, and everything. His workshops, he pronounced, are “unabashedly playful.”

“We have fun,” he explained. The workshops give siblings a chance to meet other siblings; there’s no “therapy,” just sharing experiences and feeling OK about it. You can’t underestimate how important it is to connect with others in similar situations.

My friends and I (all with siblings with Down Syndrome, from our own home-made support group) have been sharing stories and trading tips — how to measure signs of dementia, how to address changing health needs.

His advice to us? “Have wine at your meetings,” he said. “Make sure you have lots of laughs.” We left that day with an appreciation of the light touch.

In the same way that a whisper can be more compelling than a shout, so can a shared laugh be more powerful than the sobering narrative.  I’m thinking of a favorite quote from Maya Angelou that works to illustrate this:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”



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