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Webinar alert! Strategies for Communicating with Special Education Families

Texas, On-DemandCalifornia, 2/29

Adult Transition, Video

Storytelling as a Vehicle for Self-identity and Self-advocacy: a Webinar

  • with Leslie Grover, Ph.D.

    President-Founder of Assisi House, Inc.

    Leslie is the President-Founder of Assisi House, Inc. She is certified in Community Storytelling, Story Exchange Facilitation, and Narrative Medicine. She is a community-based participatory research expert, and she works with communities to conduct research, create actionable research designs, organize around community-identified issues, and create programs. An avid scholar-activist, her work is widely published on issues associated with health disparities, community polarization, and vulnerable populations.

    Profile Photo of Dr. Leslie Grover.
  • Learn about Assisi House’s innovative program to use storytelling as a way to help young adults with disabilities articulate who they are and advocate for their own needs. We will share tips to help families and teens work together to tell their “stories” and gain a better knowledge of themselves.

    Watch Webinar Video:

    Hi, everyone. If people are coming on, this is Exceptional Lives webinar. It’s called Storytelling as a Vehicle for Self-Identity and Self-Advocacy. We’re gonna give folks a few minutes to get on, just a couple, and then we will get started with our guest speaker, Leslie Grover. So, if you can hang on just a few minutes, we will get started. Oops, sorry. Welcome, everyone. We’re gonna get started in just a minute. If you are here waiting, if you could introduce yourself in the chat box, that would be great. We’d love to know who’s here, where you’re from, and maybe what you’re looking for. But we’ll get started shortly. If you’re here, you might wanna get a paper and pen. Leslie’s gonna be doing a short exercise as part of her presentation, where we’ll be invited to write things down. So, if you have some paper and a pen handy, please get that, and that will be part of the interactive task. So, we’ll get started. One more time. Welcome, everyone. This is Real Talk About Disabilities. Storytelling as a Vehicle for Self-Identity and Self-Advocacy is our topic today. We are really excited to have Leslie Grover from Assisi House, talk about the process of storytelling with young adults with disabilities. And we will introduce her in just a minute. I’m just gonna, before I go onto the, I’m gonna do some housekeeping just for a few minutes. But before that, you know, as part of our accessibility habits, one of the things we do is describe ourselves when we are on a Zoom call. So, my name is Julie McKinney. I’m the content director for Exceptional Lives. And I’m a white woman with brownish hair, and I’m wearing a red sweater. I’m in my 50s. So, describing myself just to have that be an accessibility feature, for people with visual impairments. But I’m gonna go through the housekeeping now, and show you some of our other accessibility features. We have a live transcript, which you can toggle on or off during the webinar here. And it will, we’ll fix that up later when we do the recording. But if you toggle it on, a full transcript will appear as people are talking, if that helps you to understand what’s being said. I’m sure you all know how to use the chat feature. And it is down at the bottom of your screen, usually, and on the left. And you can introduce ourselves now. Tell us where you’re from. That would be great. Make sure to switch from the Host and Panelists feature to the Everyone feature, if you want everyone to see it. If you have a tech question, please just, you know, do it to the Host and Panelists. But if you wanna share something with everyone, make sure to toggle that to the Everyone list. So, we invite and welcome comments in the chat box. But if you have a question for Leslie, she’s gonna answer questions at the end. We’re gonna try to make sure we have time for everything. And if you have a question, please use the Q and A button. That’s over on the right, at the bottom of your screen. If you want, you can check that box, and send it anonymously, if you don’t want people to know what you’re asking. That’s fine. And there’s a little like thumbs up, if you wanna click that. If you have a question that’s the same as one listed, you can just click that, and it’ll go to the top of the list. Just wanna tell you just quickly about Exceptional Lives. We are a nonprofit, and our goal is to provide families of children young and old, with disabilities, with support, information, connections to families, skill-building tools. We wanna help families to get what they need for their children with disabilities. What we offer are a whole bunch of different things. One thing is you can learn more about services for your child. We have step-by-step instructions on how to apply for things like SSI, Medicaid waivers, health insurance, special education, early intervention, and things like that. We also have a resource directory, where you can find local providers and services, things like therapists, or say a dentist that knows how to work with kids who have autism, and other resources that relate to disabilities. We do have a blog series, “Perspectives 4 Parents.” Most of, just about all of the staff at Exceptional Lives has a child with a disability. So, we’ve been through a lot of similar experiences as the folks we serve. And we, you know, we try to bring that to light with the blogs we write and share with you. We also have an active social media via Instagram and Facebook page, which can help you connect with other families. Oops, one last thing, we have two new projects, I just wanna tell you about quick. One is our Families and Stories project, and that’s where we interview families of a child with a disability. Ideally, a parent, or both, or two parents, and the child, if they want to participate. It’s a 30 minute Zoom interview. And we take little clips of it, to share some of the tidbits of your wisdom as parents going through similar challenges. So, we share that on social media. Sometimes we’ll write a blog about it. We would love it if any of you here are interested in being part of our Families and Stories project. Please mention that in the chat box, give us your email, and we’ll get in touch with you. We are recruiting families to help us do that. And you can go to the page on our site to see what the other interview, you know, what the other interview tidbits are like. We also have a, sorry, my mouse is doing weird things. We also have a new podcast series we’re really excited about. We’re on our third episode. They’re very short; they’re usually about five minutes. And they just go over some of the common things that we know parents are looking for. Okay, so with that, again, if you have any questions, please put them in the chat box for, you know, if you have any kind of tech needs. But let me introduce our guest speaker, Leslie. I’m so excited to have found Leslie, and to have her speaking with us today. Leslie is certified in community storytelling, and story exchange, facilitation, narrative medicine. She works for Assisi House; she’s the president and founder. She’s a community-based participatory research expert, and she works with organizations to conduct research and create programs. She’s also a writer for PushBlack, the largest source of information for Black voices across the nation. She’s an avid scholar and activist, and her work is widely published on issues about health disparities, community polarization, and vulnerable populations. She’s also a fiction writer, and we will look forward to her first novella, “The Benefits of Eating White Folks.” So, excited about that, and excited to have you here, Leslie. Welcome, and thank you for being here. I will turn it over to you now.

    Right, thank you. I’m so excited to be here. My name is Leslie Grover. I am a brown skinned Black woman, in a black shirt, with short black hair, and brown glasses, and I’m in my 40s. So, one of the things that I’m so excited to do is to be able to share with you, oh.

    [Julie] Oh, sorry. Sorry.

    Oh, it’s okay. It’s so excited to share with you, you know, the things that we’re working on, and how we actually use storytelling to work with our kids. So, I thought it would be really useful to sort of tell you, like, how did we, Assisi House, get involved in storytelling? Because one of the things that we used to do in person, before the pandemic hit us, was we used to work in person with a lot of youth, and younger people, especially those who had disabilities. And a lot of them have emotional disabilities, or learning disabilities. And one of the things we noticed was that when they were able to tell their stories, and when they were able to participate in ways that allowed them to tell their stories, even if the story was in the moment, that their behaviors improved, there was better self-advocacy. And so we thought, “Okay, let’s really make this a thing,” because we were getting some really good feedback from the people that worked with these youth. So, I thought it was important to talk about storytelling and self-advocacy, the way that we have experienced it at Assisi House. So, one of the reasons that link between storytelling and self-advocacy is so important, is because it does build connection. When we tell stories, you know, we can use them to persuade and influence, but storytelling is a full contact sport, right? There’s a role for everyone. And different parts of our brains light up, whether we’re hearing the story, whether we’re telling the story. And in the midst of telling a story, even when we’re just sitting there, our brains are lighting up. Storytelling and self-advocacy can also teach us about ourselves. And even though neuroscience and psychology tells us that our lives are pretty random and things happen, nobody wants to think that you’re random. So, when we tell stories, it helps us give structure to the things that happen, it helps us to organize the things that happen in our lives, and it helps to give meaning to our lives. Alright. So, I am having trouble with the slides. I don’t know why it keeps popping back. But that’s okay, we’re gonna, I’m gonna keep going. So.

    [Julie] Hey, Leslie, you keep talking, I’ll get it to the place where you are.

    Thank you so much. So, one, yes, right here. So, when we think about storytelling and self-advocacy in a visual way, we can think about prompts, we can think about how we relate to the world, and how we can give our lives meaning. Here’s some of the questions that our brain helps us deal with. And for young people who have disabilities, it’s very good to be able to think about these questions in a way that centers them in terms of their life experience. ‘Cause what we found, was some of these children were very good at just sort of going by a script, telling what happened to them, or how they ended up in certain programming, or how they felt about something. But that’s not the same thing as necessarily processing their story. So, it was some questions that we sometimes talk about, is what am I good at? What’s my plan of action? What’s my dream? Who loves me? What’s my story? Who’s going to help me? What do I need? Who am I? And all of these questions, when we begin to pick them apart and put them in some type of sequence, and put them in a model that helps us do the work, this is where we begin to see the results. So, today, see, I thought what better way to show you what we do, than to actually take you through a self-advocacy exercise. So, what I’m going to do is share a poem. And I’m gonna have snippets of it on the screen. And I’m gonna ask you to read it, but not to read it word for word. I want you to pay more attention to words that stand out. I want you to pay attention to the way the words are situated on the screen. And don’t worry if you don’t pick up the wording, because then I’m gonna read the poem to you. And then we’re gonna write a little bit about it, and then we’re gonna share. So, I’m gonna show you these slides, but again, each slide is just gonna be a few seconds. Unless you’re like a speed reader, you’re probably not gonna get to be able to do all the words. And again, that’s perfectly fine. So, if there are no questions, then I’m gonna get started. Alright.

    [Julie] Your slides don’t, there we go.

    So, the poem that we’re gonna be using, is “My Father Is A Retired Magician” by Ntozake Shange. And the reason that this is important, is the last workshop we did, we had a lot of young Black women, young Black young girls, young Black women, young Black little girls. And so one of the things that’s really important, is when you’re talking about self-advocacy, and you’re using a creative piece, you want a piece that the child, or the young person that you’re working with, can identify with. So, it was really important for us to pick, you know, the work of artists who look like the youth that we’re working with, because they can see themselves, and they feel more comfortable in doing that. It’s also important, because we know in our work too, that when youth are able to identify with someone on the screen, or they think they can identify with someone in the midst, it cuts down on some of the attention issues, and it allows them to ask questions and process things that just gives them a more positive outcome. So, we’re going to be doing “My Father Is A Retired Magician.” So, as I said, each slide is just going to have a few seconds. And so think about like the punctuation on this slide, think about the dialect, think about the numbers you see. Only gonna do a few seconds for each one. Think about the spacing. It’s important here too, because you also, whatever, whether we use artwork, or whether we use poetry or short story, we try to keep it in exactly the form that the artist has it in, because we also wanna honor the artist’s voice. And this poem was chosen because it does have a lot of those spaces and words. Okay, so now I’m going to read this poem the way that we would read it, if we were, you know, in the midst of a session ourself, and then you can, you know, just listen. And as I’m going through this poem, I would like for you to pay attention to how you feel as I’m reading, pay attention to words that might stick out to you, pay attention to things that don’t make sense, pay attention to things that you feel are funny, or things that you wanna know more about. And I’ll ask you to hold that, hold that or either write it on your piece of paper. But that’s one of the things. And I also want you to pay attention that as we go through this process, what it brings up for you, so that you can allow yourself, just please participate fully. There’s no right or wrong answers. It’s just the process. So, I’ll begin reading the poem now. “My father is a retired magician, which accounts for my irregular behavior. Everything comes up outta magic hats or bottles with no bottoms, and parakeets are as easy to get as a couple of rabbits or three 50 cent pieces. 1958, my daddy retired from magic and took up another trade, ’cause this friend of mine from the third grade asked to be made white on the spot. What could any self-respecting colored American magician do with such an outlandish request, ‘cept put all them razzamatazz, hocus pocus, zippity-do-dah thingamajigs away? ‘Cause colored children believing in magic was becoming politically dangerous for the race, and wasn’t nobody gonna be made white on the spot, just from a clap of my daddy’s hands. And the reason I’m so peculiar, is ’cause I’ve been studying up on my daddy’s technique, and everything I do is magic these days. And it’s very colored, very now you see it now you don’t mess with me. I come from a family of retired sorcerers, active houngans & pennyante fortune tellers with 41 million spirits and critters, and celestial bodies on our side. I’ll listen to your problems, help with your career, your lover, your wandering spouse, make your grandma’s stay in heaven more gratifying, ease your mother through menopause, and show your son how to clean his room. Yes, yes, yes. Three wishes is all you get. Scarlet ribbons for your hair, benwa balls via Hong Kong, a miniature of Machu Pichu. All things are possible, but ain’t no color magician in her right mind gonna make you white. I mean this is black magic, you looking at, and I’m fixing you up real good, fixing you up real good and colored. And you gonna be colored all your life and you gonna love it, being colored all your life. Colored and love it. Love it being colored.” And that’s the poem. And so now what we do is we sit for a minute with the poem, and we take a few deep breaths. Now, having read the poem. I apologize for the slides. I don’t know, the slides are just… Thank you, right here, please. I click and it just, it jumps three slides.

    [Julie] Sorry, Leslie. I can do it. You can just tell me.

    Oh, thank you so much. And I hope it hasn’t been too distracting, but. So, what we’re going to do is now do a prompt. So, in this poem, the young girl telling it decides to be proud of who she is and she tells her story her own way. So, I would like for everyone to take a moment and write to this prompt. This prompt is tell about what makes you magical. So, here are the rules for our prompt. We’re gonna have three minutes. It’s gonna be silent. You know, if you need to be in a quiet spot, or if you can just take a moment to focus on this, give yourself three minutes. I’m gonna time it. Write whatever your response is to this prompt. There’s no right or wrong answers. There’s no certain way that you have to write it. You can even draw a picture if you want to. It doesn’t have to be, you know, this is, you know, this, we’re not trying to make it academic, and, you know, school based. But, so we really want you to respond in the way that’s best for you. So, are there any questions before I set the timer? If so, would you please put them in the chat, just so we can make sure that, you know, before we, that we start on the same page with our activity. Okay, so I don’t see any questions popping up in the chat. So, again, we’re gonna have three minutes. Write whatever your prompt, write whatever your response is to this prompt. And the prompt is tell about what makes you magical. And we’re gonna start now. Okay, that’s our three minutes. I’m going to ask you to stop. It doesn’t even have to be finished. We can be okay with being unfinished. We can be okay with being raggedy. As we say at Assisi House, “It’s completely fine to be raggedy.” So, next slide please. So, I’m gonna ask you guys to be brave. I would love to have a share out, if you’re willing to share out. We are going to have our big question. And the big question is how does this approach inspire us to help young people with disabilities to tell their own magical stories? So, if you share out, you don’t have to share your written word if you don’t want to, but you can just share your thoughts, or you can share some, you know, some of your ways of thinking about what we did today. So, when we do share out, what I want you to ask, and keep in mind, is that I want you to respond to only what is shared, and to speak about what was shared, and not the writer. And I’m gonna ask that the person sharing should not be asked any clarifying or follow-up questions. So, for instance, if I share “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” Julie would not ask me, “Well, what kinda lamb was it? And Leslie, I thought you were a vegetarian. Are you gonna sell the lamb to make lamb chops? Do you even like lamb chops?” So, questions like those, we want to do that. And so I’ve included a lot of time for us to be able to share out, and think about this big question. Because the interaction part that we’re gonna do together is where we find a lot of the nuggets of the power of story and self-advocacy. So, are the mics open and everybody able to share? So-

    [Julie] Leslie, can I also mention just quickly, if people wanna share anonymously, you can use the Q and A box, and click that anonymous button. So, if you wanna share, but don’t want us to know, you know, see your name, you can do it that way. Otherwise, you can unmute yourself, and do it with your voice.

    Okay. So, it’s open for anyone who would like to be brave and go first.

    [Jackie] Okay, I’ll go first. I’m gonna paste my comments in chat.

    Right, thank you, Jackie. Wonderful. So, if it’s okay, I’ll read these comments. And it says, “What makes me magical? My brain. I can see what others can’t. I can help people because I understand. I can feel how others feel, even though I didn’t have their experience. I can because of my brain.” Excellent. So, I’m gonna model how we would respond to this sharing. So, I might say, I really love how you’re able to recognize things in people, without actually having to go through it. It sounds like your brain is a really magical place. I appreciate you sharing that. Is there anyone else who would like to react to what was shared?

    [Julie] I have just a comment. I like that she calls it empathy magical, and helping people is her magic, which is a very cool thought, and it’s a nice superpower to have.

    Thank you. Would anyone else like to react to what was shared?

    [Julie] Leslie, did you see in the Q and A, we have a mom of a young man with disabilities, and “My super power is my ability to make him laugh.”

    Oh, thank you for sharing that. Alright. So, is there anyone who would like to react to this story? To this sharing? I’ll say to our anonymous mom, that the ability to make someone laugh is indeed super magical, and very much needed in this world. Thank you for sharing that. Alright. Wonderful. And I see some more in the chat. I see, “The ability to use your own magic, to focus on other people is extra magical.” Absolutely. So, I see another comment, and it says, “Here’s the first one. What if my child has some painful or difficult parts of their story? How can I help them to open up and articulate these parts?”

    [Julie] Leslie, I think that might be a question for the Q and A period. I’m not sure if that was in response to this share.

    Okay, yeah. I was like, “This sounds familiar.” I think it is for the Q and A period. Thank you. We’ll hold that question until the Q and A period. Alright. Is there anyone else who would like to share what they wrote? Or if you drew a picture or an image, who would like to describe what their image or picture is? Okay, I’ll share what I wrote. So, I drew lots of hearts, and then I said, “My heart and my love of learning makes me magical. I really believe that love can change the world, and inspire others, or at least inspire other people to try to change the world. Best of all, I’m always seeking to learn, which for me is a special magic within itself too. Learning, loving and stories. That’s magic for the world.” And then I have more little tiny hearts drawn around it. Would anyone like to respond?

    [Jackie] Can you share it in chat or were you?

    [Julie] Go ahead, Jackie?

    [Jackie] I was gonna say if she, I didn’t catch everything, if you could share it in chat. My internet was going in and out.

    Okay.

    [Jackie] Or would you mind rereading it, Leslie?

    Oh, sure, no. I drew lots of little hearts on my paper, and then I said, “My heart and my love of learning makes me magical. I really believe that I can help change the world, and inspire others with love, even if it inspires them to try to change the world. Best of all, I’m always seeking to learn, which for me is a special magic within itself. Learning and loving and trying to help others, truly magic.” And then-

    [Jackie] To answer the big question.

    Mm hmm.

    [Jackie] What you said, it would teach kids with disabilities that they can turn to themselves to help solve problems.

    Yes.

    Using their own heart.

    Yes, thank you. Are there any other comments?

    [Julie] I think we should probably get to the questions. There’s a couple comments in the Q and A. I’ll just read them. One is, “Laughter is such a beautiful thing.” Totally agree with that. Another attendee said, “My superpower is gratitude for being able to help those who are strong enough to request and those who can’t.” So yeah, those are really nice sentiments. Thank you. But just in the interest of time here, I just wanna get to the questions. We do have a few questions that have come through in different ways for you, Leslie. So, if we can do these now. Just wanna give a quick heads up to people. We have, the webinar is scheduled for 45 minutes. So, we’re gonna, in a few minutes, we’re gonna do some closeout information. But then we’re gonna stay on, for anyone who wants to stay on, for, you know, until the top of the hour, for the last 15 minutes of the hour. Leslie will be here and we’ll still be answering questions and discussing things. This is, you know, so we can make it an interactive session after that. But of course, all of the stuff that you came here to hear will be done by 45 minutes, depending on your time zone. So, just quickly, Leslie, let me just say one of the questions is, “What if my child has some painful or difficult parts to their story? How can I help them to open up and articulate these parts?”

    Yes. So, uh oh, the slides are moving again.

    [Julie] Oh, I’m sorry.

    So, if, you know, there often are very painful parts of a story. One of the ways that we worked when we had some stories that were really not just hard to have our youth open up about, but just to listen to was very difficult. So, one of the things that really helped us, was to be able to allow the storyteller to share as much as they wanted to, and they can skip over that part, or they can find another way to tell it. We had a couple of participants that when they were telling their stories and they were sharing out, and they came to a triggering word, they put something in place of the triggering word. They might mouth the word, they might clap, they might put their hands over their mouth. We had one participant, which I thought this was just so brilliant. So, this participant was a little hard of hearing, but could sign, and so every time they got to a word that was hurtful, or something that would just make them feel badly, they would sign love instead of saying that word, to give it power, instead of the harmful part. Another thing that’s important to do, when there’s a difficult part of the story, is too, just to understand that sometimes those can be triggering. So, if there are ways to process that story that might require professional help, it’s beyond the scope of our storytelling exercise, because we were not practicing, you know, we’re not licensed therapists. But we are able, you know, we are licensed healing artists, and licensed storytellers and community storytellers. And, you know, having a narrative medicine certification allows you to do some of that work. But what we don’t do is unpack that in a way that’s harmful or triggering to the person telling the story. So, one of the things that we would do was have a safe space, if there are hard parts to trigger. Even if that safe space is just, you know, like, I brought an example of how we, we call this our portable safe space, and we actually use these orange pillows. So, if you’re not feeling safe, and you, of course can leave, or, you know, have one of our adults accompany you, but you just have a safety pillow. And we knew that if we saw the safety pillow, or someone asked for it, that they were coming to a difficult part of their story. And so we would help support them, you know, and just encourage them. And sometimes it was hugs, or “You can do it,” or “Thank you for sharing that,” or “It’s okay,” or just this motion, which was just sending magic to them. So, thank you for that question.

    [Julie] That’s so nice, Leslie. Thanks. I love the idea of the safe space pillow. Now, one more question, and then we will sort of do some ending ending activities, and then we’ll, we’ll stay on for more questions if people have them. So, this is from a parent, says, “My son doesn’t like writing or talking about himself, but loves music. Can this process work with other art forms?” And of course you showed that you drew a picture for yours. So, but yeah, we’d love to hear about how that might look.

    Yes, any type of art form or means of expression can work. We’ve done this with music. We’ve done this with drawings. We’ve done this with dance and movement. We’ve done this with, one time, this was so much fun, the students actually got into like a fun rap battle, and they were able to like do a freestyle in the way that they did it. I also wanna say that today I used a piece of poetry, but we’ve used movie clips, we’ve used clips of music, we’ve used fine art, we’ve used folk art, sculptures. Any way that we, as humans, can tell our stories, can be used in this process. And we can respond in any way that we can talk about ourselves as human beings. So, thank you for the question.

    [Julie] Alright. Right, thank you everyone so much for being part of this webinar. I wanna thank Leslie, but you’ll be on for a little bit. But I just wanna tell you a little bit about the rest of our webinar series. And you’re gonna see a poll go up soon, just with some questions, to let us know, you know, how this went, and about the quality of the webinar. So, if you can answer that, that would be great. We appreciate it. And just wanna go over this. This is the rest of our webinar topics. There’s a bunch of them. You can see them all on our registration page. If you just go to exceptionallives.org and click on the webinars tab at the top, you’ll see the whole list, with more information about each of these webinars. They all have to do with caring for people with disabilities. Some are for younger kids, some are focused more on older or young adults. So, there’s something for everyone. And we hope that you can come to more of them, and spread the word among your friends, and help other families and parents and caregivers know about this series. We’d appreciate it. And I also wanna thank The Wilson Foundation for their dedication to the Capital Area Community, and for supporting this webinar series. So, I just wanna go through all that. Please check out our site also, exceptionallives.org, and Leslie’s, assisihouse.org, to learn more about all kinds of things. And so at this point, just wanna let everybody know that a recording of this with captions in Spanish and English will be available on our webinar page in two or three weeks. So, check back. All of our webinars are eventually recorded, and we have the transcripts cleaned up, and translated into Spanish. And so please join us for more, and thank you everyone for coming. Thank you, Leslie. But I do wanna just let everyone know, if you wanna stay on, if you have more questions, you can open your mic, and we can have a discussion, anything that people want, for the next 15 minutes. Of course, you’re welcome to go and be with your families too. So, thanks again, everyone, for being here. And I welcome comments and questions, if more people wanna talk.

    [Woman] I would like to ask something, Leslie. I was hoping you would kind of discuss the poem again.

    Okay.

    [Woman] The unusual way she wrote it, as far as, you know, not straight in line.

    Mm hmm, yes.

    [Woman] How does that help?

    Well, a lot of times, poems like that can help us to understand that there’s no right way or wrong way, particularly when you’re writing, to put things like on paper. So, one of the things I love about this poem, was, you know, this poem talks about 1968, and it talk, like a lot of the kids are like, they don’t even know what that is, in 1958.

    Right.

    Razzamatazz and thingamajigs. So, they think it’s hilarious, you know? Razzle dazzle. That’s another reason that I picked it. But, for me, and what we’ve learned over the years, is that, and this is a lot of times when we use a lot of different types of media, whether it’s poetry, or art, or whatever, to really highlight those that aren’t in straight lines, so that our youth can understand that, hey, if you wanna write on one side of the page, and leave a space, or flip over to the back of the page, that that’s perfectly alright, that that is a part of telling your story, and it’s completely fine to do that. Related to that issue of that poem and that space, is we encourage our students to take up space. Like, when we were doing the physical in the room, we encourage them to like, you know, sit where you wanna sit. But like, if you wanna spread out, and have your paraphernalia all over the table, there was plenty of space and plenty of room to do that. Because one thing about self advocacy sometimes, is that we may not feel comfortable, because we’re taught not to take up too much space. So, using the poetry, and coupling that with how we can be in the room, and how we can be physical with our art, is one way that we found helped put students at ease.

    [Woman] Wow, you just hit a key moment for me. Thank you.

    [Julie] Leslie, I’m curious to know, so when you go through these exercises with young people, how do you go the next step to help them learn to advocate for specific needs they have in different parts of their life? So, they’ve done this. It sounds like it does some really cool things to people’s sort of self-awareness and self-identity, and acceptance of themselves. But then how do you translate that into advocating if they like need to push for something that they’re not getting in life, I suppose?

    Well, a lot of times, this is just a very first step, just a preliminary step. For us, we often will do this in partnership with other community organizations, or with a therapist, or sometimes with the faith community, or even with parents. There have been times that I’m thinking about, where we had a family situation, where we had some newly adopted children, with emotional, severe emotional disabilities. And it was described as the children were, you know, ’cause you can fight, flight, or freeze, they were in freeze mode a lot. And the parents were having a very difficult time just getting them to come out of that, to share. So, we did a couple of these sessions in concert with the parents, and the therapists. And, you know, one of the things we found, for instance, was, and let me just say that the parents were very loving, open, adoptive parents. I wanna make that clear. And they were trying so hard to just talk. But you know, like, and we’re taught, like when you, in our culture, at least, when we are talking to one another, we make eye contact, we deeply listen. We call it active listening. But it was a case that these children did not, that made them feel uncomfortable. And they felt like it was very aggressive, and they were afraid. So, it was very triggering to have like direct eye contact and do that. So, we did one of these, and we found out that one of the children really liked to go for drives. So, the family went for a drive. And, you know, when you’re driving, you’re looking straight ahead. And the child began to open up, because they didn’t have to make that eye contact, and they didn’t feel called out because they didn’t want to.

    [Julie] Yeah, it’s funny, Leslie, we had a webinar last week about self-advocacy, and one of the main points that came out was just helping people feel comfortable with themselves, and talking about themselves. And that that was such a big first piece of self-advocacy. And it’s funny, like, I’d never thought of that as being so connected to advocating. But it, yeah, so it’s very in line with that. And this is such a beautiful way to do it.

    We love it. I remember there was once we were working, we used a piece of artwork. And this was like one of those pieces of artwork that had like ships on the sea. And I remember, you know, as we were going around and asking participants to react, one of the students was like, “I hate art. I hate everything that we’re doing. You know, I just hate it.” And so I said, “I think that’s great if you hate it. Why don’t you tell us what you hate about this? We’d love to know.” And you know, the student just wasn’t expecting that response, you know? But it was great for us, because it helps us to just meet students where they’re at. And I think sometimes they really don’t believe us, when we say there’s no right or wrong answer, you know? Like, you can say you hate something. And one thing that’s very important too, is if you wanna pass, and you don’t wanna speak at the time, you don’t have to speak at the time. We worked with a group of young women, who were unhoused. And there was one who was just silent the whole time. She would come to the session, she would, you know, draw, but she would never respond. And about the eighth session we had, we read, oh, we actually, we didn’t read anything, we showed a scene from “Dinner for Schmucks.” There was a scene. I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie. That movie cracks me up. I just can’t take it. It’s Steve Carell and Zach Galifianakis. All they have to do is walk in the room, and I’m gonna start cracking up. But it’s based on this French film. Anyway, there’s a scene where the character, he takes mice and he makes art from mice that he finds in the subway. And there was this scene where the mouse was like, they were walking in the park with a little parasol. And she starts cracking up, and cackling, and laughing so hard that like all of us had to stop. Like, all of us, we were in tears from this very silent person. But it was beautiful, because it was a breakthrough for her, you know? And after that, she began to work a little bit more. So, just making space to react. That’s really what it’s about.

    [Julie] Making space to react, I like that. I’m gonna carry with me the vision of the orange pillow too.

    Yes, so I found these, at first, you know, I was just taking these pillows, because they were like on sale at Target for a couple of dollars, and then I found some in Walmart. And I just started carrying them with me. And the students just, they love them. And I’m like, “Okay, so we can do the portable safe space with these pillows.” We also, we used to do the fidget spinners, but they just got to be a mess. I don’t like those things, but some people do. We also do playdough. And we also do like anything that helps you move your hands. Because one of the things we know, is that if you’re anxious, or if you are having a hard time telling your story, that if you do something with your hands, even if it’s knitting, coloring, taking a pen and popping the end of it back and forth, that actually helps to alleviate some of the anxiety. And that can help you participate in story, if you otherwise wouldn’t have, because you didn’t know what to do with that anxious energy.

    [Julie] That’s great. It’s nice that you understand that about people’s needs. I wanna just say, just put a word out, like, does anybody who hasn’t had a chance to share, or comment, or ask a question, would like to speak, please feel free to unmute, or raise your hand, or just speak if you want to. We wanna give everyone a chance if you want to. Alright. Okay, I guess we have come to a quiet moment. So, I wanna thank you again, Leslie, for coming. This was really nice. This was a very unique webinar. And thank you for taking us through that exercise. We have a lot to think about. And thank you everyone for coming, and for staying on for the extra bit of time. So, anyway, thank you, Leslie. We will stop the webinar, and hope to see people next time. And hope to see you around online, Leslie. Thanks again so much.

    Yes.

    This was great.

    Thank you all for having me. This was so fun. Thank you so much.

    [Julie] Mm hmm. Bye, everyone.

    Bye.

    [Jackie] Goodbye.

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