While some people may feel compelled to make a difference for people with unique needs in our communities, not everyone has time to give to become involved with various organizations and initiatives. If you are one of these people, consider adding a group who supports people with different needs to your annual charitable giving list. As with any charity donation, look into which ones do the best job of putting your donation to good use to directly support the cause.
Do you want to do something to help give people with different needs an opportunity to be more socially included in your community? Look into volunteer opportunities at Best Buddies, Autism Society of America, or Down Sydrome Foundation (October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month!). Or do a search for local groups who promote friendship for people with different needs, such as All Friends Network in Florida, or Positive Community Connections on Long Island.
Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 10.14.21
Community inclusion has long been a goal for people with different needs and those who support them. An overview of disabilities by the CDC shows that 26% of the adult population in the United States has some form of disability. That is 61 million people in all. Of these, 13.7% have a mobility impairment, 10.8% have cognitive impairments, 5.9% have hearing impairments and 4.6% have vision impairments. 6.8% have difficulty with independent living and 3.7% have difficulty with basic self-care skills.
Over the past several decades, there has been a great deal of progress within our systems to promote inclusion, such as less reliance on segregated classrooms in the school, better workplace opportunities for people who don’t fit into a certain employment box, and better accessibility features in public spaces. All of the work that has been done by people with different needs along with those who support them has been fantastic, and our world today is a much better place for inclusion than it was 30 years ago.
In addition to increased opportunities, we have seen significant changes in community awareness and acceptance for individuals with different needs. Across the country we have organizations whose focus is to promote awareness and inclusion, such as Autism Speaks, The National Down Syndrome Society, and The Arc. There are movies and television series that showcase life with different needs, including Love on the Spectrum, Born This Way, Raising Tourette’s, and Atypical. Placing these shows in the mainstream helps to create awareness and acceptance in our communities.
Despite these improvements and increased awareness, people with diverse abilities often continue to struggle to fit into the world comfortably. What are some things that we, as members of our communities, can be doing to help improve opportunities for inclusion?
Start by looking at the gifts you have in your own life – gifts of time, gifts of talent, gifts of financial resources. How do you use these gifts? For the most part, people use these gifts regularly to help themselves and their families, prioritizing the people closest to themselves. For example, if you have a gift of some free time, you will likely use that time to do something you enjoy, with family, friends, or time to yourself. Enjoying and appreciating what you have in the way of time, talent, and money is vital to your well-being and to help you stay connected to those who are important to you in your life. While I strongly encourage everyone to do more to use their gifts to improve their own lives and the lives of those close to them, I would also challenge people to look at some ways they can give back for the sake of others in the community.
With so many people in need and so many causes, each of us has a multitude of ways to give back to our communities. I could easily go through the attributes of a number of causes, but today our focus is inclusion for people with different needs, specifically, those with intellectual disability or neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. These individuals are often left out socially, and have a much higher rate of unemployment than the general population. In addition, social isolation is a chronic problem. 24% of adults who have intellectual and neurodevelopmental differences state that they do not feel that they have people they can confide in comfortably.
So, what can you do?
Start with your gifts of time and talent. If you were to carve out even one hour a week to either spend time with someone who has different needs, or to volunteer at a local organization who supports people with different needs, you could make a big difference. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer at larger events also, including fundraisers, social events and other activities. Some examples include Night to Shine, a red-carpet event that takes place once a year in towns and cities around the world for people with different needs, and Els for Autism events that take place throughout the year. Consider also how some of your own skills and talents may be used to help – are you good at organization? If so, helping with fundraisers may the the thing for you. Are you confident with your social skills and could you help someone with issues related to friendship? Maybe spending time with people who are socially isolated is where you can best use your talent to help with inclusion.
Now, think about your gifts of financial and material resources. With this, the most obvious thing is to find a good organization or foundation who supports community inclusion and opportunities for people with unique needs. There are hundreds of these organizations in our country to choose from – some with a national focus and others that have more impact on local experiences. Other ways to use financial and material gifts to help with inclusion may include investing resources into providing more opportunities for people. For example, if you own or manage a business, perhaps you could consider committing to hiring one or more people with different needs to help out in your business. Not only do you help by providing a chance for gainful employment, but you also provide opportunities for social engagement and interaction that can be severely lacking for many people with different needs.
So if you are looking to make a difference in our ever-changing and complex world, take some time to consider making a difference for some people who still need our help and support to be meaningfully included in our communities. You may find yourself amazed at the impact you can have for the benefit of others.
Kaarin Anderson Ryan PhD 9.27.21
Our last two weekly tips gave some ideas for how to intentionally and meaningfully take time for yourself an others. This week, try to shift gears and think about how to make the best use of your time for focus and productivity. Once you set yourself up for some kind of task or project, apply yourself to that project fully by reducing distractions (put your phone away!), setting yourself up in a space that helps you focus, and allowing yourself (short) regular breaks to help you re-set and re-energize for your task.
Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 9.13.21
When we think about time, often one of our thoughts is that there is never enough time in a day to do everything you want to do. One way to give yourself a gift of extra time is to wake up 15-20 minutes earlier than usual and use that time for something you enjoy. Have a relaxing cup of coffee (not in your car on the way to work), go for a walk, meditate, do some stretches. There are a huge number of things you can do for yourself with just a little extra time in the morning to get your day off to a perfect start!
Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD. 8.30.21
It is a time of transition for so many of us. It’s the end of summer and for many people this signals a start to a new school year. For a lot of people, it is a time of lifted restrictions and resuming more normal social activities. For other people, it is time to go back to restricted activities because of new outbreaks and variants. As we look at out own transitions this September, think about taking time for what is important to you and your family, no matter what else is going on in the world.
So, what fun activities is it time for in your life this month? Will you go apple picking with your kids? Will you read a good book? How about meeting a friend for coffee on a Saturday morning? Starting a new month and a new season is a good time to make a list of what you hope to make time for this month in the way of activities and events.
What goals can you set for your family this month? With a new season, it may be time for looking at your responsibilities and how you will handle any changes that are coming with autumn. Sending kids back to school is one of the big transitions people are thinking abut right now. Teachers, professors, academic professionals everywhere are gearing up for an unpredictable year. Students of all ages are jumping back into school with continued covid-related issues affecting their experiences. Parents of students are faced now with helping their kids navigate unpredictable waters with school while they themselves work on coping with ever-changing circumstances in the world. For everyone who is looking at changes in schedules and responsibilities this fall, this is a good time to take stock of what will be new and different for you in the coming months and make some plans on how to tackle these changes.
Is it time for anything else as you head into a new season? Maybe you have been thinking about some personal goals, like improving your health habits. Maybe it’s a good time to take on daily meditations and mindfulness practices to build your overall wellness. With the weather cooling off a bit, maybe this is a good time to think about spending more time outdoors in comfortable temperatures.
It is always time for something – work, activities, family, relaxation. Take a few minutes to think about how to frame the next few months, making time for what is important to you.
Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD
New! Look for my tip of the week every Monday for tips and tricks that build on my latest blog.
Finding Beauty in Others
It can be hard to find beauty in others when you’re having a bad day. Try to focus your attention on someone’s smile. A smile conveys thoughtful reflection and spreads joy. It’s a great step forward in finding the beauty in others!
Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA, LBA 7.28.21
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am sure that this is true. After all, there are things that are beautiful to some people but not to others. We all have basic preferences for color, shapes and design. We also have preferences for beauty in the form of landscapes, animals, and other people. In many cases, we may come to appreciate beauty where we had not seen it before.
When it comes to other people, there can be tendencies as part of human nature to make judgments based on appearances. Sometimes these judgments are purely about attraction – do I like how that person looks as a potential romantic partner? Other times these judgments are more complex, looking at someone and thinking you may know them because of the outward appearance you see. Clothing, hairstyle, skin color – these are all things that can affect our judgment, often leading to inaccurate representations or poor outcomes.
In the field of psychology, we strive to understand and predict human behavior to help build better success for people with regard to personal interactions. It is often disappointing to see negative patterns of behavior repeat themselves – with individual people we know, with ourselves, and with society. In my specific experience, spending my entire career working with and advocating for the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens – those with autism, developmental needs and diverse abilities – I have challenged others to look for beauty and strength in people where it might not be as obvious to society. We have come a long way in the past 20 years towards increased acceptance and community inclusion, but we still have a long way to go. It doesn’t seem like we can fix things in any easy fashion, but looking at where we are today, it seems that one thing we can all do is look for and find beauty.
In others. In ourselves. In our communities.
How good are you at looking for an finding beauty in others? Not just physical beauty, but inner beauty, positive qualities and attributes? Do you look for the best in others, or do you focus on the things you don’t like, or the things that make you uncomfortable?
We often see the negatives more than the positives. In doing this, I can promise you that if you look for a negative quality in another person, or look for fault in what that person says or does, you will find it. This also holds true for the opposite – if you really apply yourself to looking for the best quality in another person you will find it. I believe that there is beauty somewhere inside all people, with very few exceptions.
In addition, it is important for us all to remember that we have each only really walked in our own shoes. Do any of us really know what it feels like to be someone else? Someone who was rude to you at the store? Someone who has a different skin color than your own, or who comes from a different culture? Someone who has been born with a disability that affects every day life in ways you might not be able to imagine?
Try to imagine – only just imagine – that each person you come into contact with today is honestly just doing the best they can with what they have in that moment. If you can even imagine that, your outlook may become more balanced. This may also result in more positive interactions and less frustrations throughout your day.
While I do think that in general, we tend to be too hard on other people, I also think that we tend to be hard on ourselves. It is so easy to slip into negative thinking about ourselves, our skills, our looks, our interactions. Have you ever second-guessed a conversation after it happened and thought about what you could have or should have said differently or better? Have you ever looked in the mirror or at a picture of yourself and really focused in on the things you don’t like about your looks? Have you ever talked yourself out of trying something because you think you won’t be good enough?
Simone Biles, bright, beautiful, and possibly the best female gymnast of all time, just stepped down from the Olympic team competition to let her team compete without her because she wasn’t sure she had it in her to live up to the world’s expectations in that moment. She, who from an outsider’s perspective with her incredible talent and should have every reason to believe in herself, was wrought with doubt this week. The world was shocked. We look at her as someone who is flawless, perfect in her sport, the epitome of strength and perseverance. But even Simone Biles has her moments of self-doubt, and if she does, it is no wonder that we all do. Simone Biles had the courage to say to the world that she needed a break for herself, and I hope that in doing so she is able to search and find that strength, beauty and brightness once again.
How can we face our doubts and not lose sight of our own beauty and brightness? Maybe it means sometimes hitting the pause button to give yourself some grace for a time. Maybe it also means looking at yourself in a more balanced way – you may challenge yourself constantly to overcome weaknesses and things that get in your way, but it is important to not let this dominate your thoughts about yourself. For every weakness or challenge you seek to improve within yourself, look for one thing you are proud of, one thing you like about yourself, one thing you know other people like about you. Balance yourself with positive thoughts about yourself while you strive for self-improvement.
In our communities.
Boy oh boy, is it easy to find fault in our communities, isn’t it? Do they do enough of this, that or the other thing that we think is important? Probably not. But like the balanced perspectives we can strive for regarding others and ourselves, we have to do this with our communities as well. Like people, communities are not perfect. How could they be? They are made up of imperfect people, after all. That is the nature of life. This is not to suggest that we shouldn’t advocate for our communities to do better in things that could be improved, but it is to say let’s think about them in a more balanced way.
When you consider your own community, including our collective state and national community, do you see more things that you like or more things that you don’t like? Is it easy to criticize local, state or federal organizations and governing agencies for everything they do wrong? It is, I think, very easy to find fault with organizations and systems. And there are things that need to be improved, without a doubt. This is true for things that affect lives of people in a multitude of ways. Does your community do enough to support people in financial need? Does it do enough to support and include people with different needs and abilities? Does it do enough to provide opportunities for positive interaction and productive debate? Does it do enough overall to support diversity and inclusion for all people?
Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. But, I would venture to say that all our communities have qualities and strengths that we may take for granted. While you consider the things you wish would be better within your own community – or even on a broader scale with state and federal organizations or governments – also consider the things you value in these area. What does your community do well? Look for the beauty.
If we start from a place with a focus on what is bright and beautiful, it will make it easier to tackle the challenges that we face with others, with ourselves, and with our communities.
Having positive interactions with others is so important, but it can be tricky to fit in time with people we enjoy. Spending time with others doesn’t have to be a big event though – try setting up time with a friend for a FaceTime call, a walk outdoors, or a text chat. Or reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to for a long time and re-connect – you might make someone’s day by reaching out, and it might make your day to have that interaction as well.
Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD
It is so easy to find things to criticize about ourselves. Try to focus on one thing every day that will boost your confidence. It can be something you do, something someone else says to you, or something about the way you look. This is a great way to add positivity to the way you think about yourself and all the things that make you a beautiful person.