Bloom Where You’re Planted, Learning to Blossom Where You Are

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Before we know it, spring will be here. Flowers will be blooming, what seemed lifeless will start flourish, and the rain showers will bring an abundance of growth and beauty. As this season envelopes us with its beauty and hope, it initiates an anticipation in me to create those same type of virtues in my life.

I don’t know about you, but as a neurodiverse caregiver, if I’m being honest things can be dull, hard, and exhausting. For years, I didn’t know how to bloom where I was planted. Getting the diagnosis, letting the reality of having a neurodiverse loved-one weighed on me as the reality set in. Would I be able to provide for their needs? Would I know how to adapt and adjust? There were very real questions and concerns that plagued me. Can you relate?

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As a neurodiverse caregiver, I’ve had to change my perspective a little bit. I’ve had to recognize the dirt that covers us at times with its pressures, heaviness, and burdens can– if we allow it– to be the perfect environment to help us grow. The tension that neurodiversity can bring doesn’t hinder us from blossoming. The rain may come. The tough times are inevitable. But they can help us flower into something beautiful. I want to invite you to join me on this adventure… to blossom where you are planted because as Cross M. Pens says, “All of the flowers of all the tomorrows are seeds of today.

As a neurodiverse caregiver you may have learned that, “When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.” -Alexander DenHeijer

That can be challenging especially when you don’t know where to start or where to go for help and support. But that’s why we at the Sandi Lynn Geller Memorial Family Resource Center– a program of LiFT– exist. We desire to give people access to the resources, support, and service providers which can help you and your loved ones bloom no matter where you’re planted!

Our community partner directory offers information about social activities, provides health and wellness providers, and offers information about legal and financial support as well.

There will be hard days, difficult situations, and times where you feel completely inadequate… but as Xan Oku says, “May the flowers remind us why the rain was necessary.”

Every storm or challenging circumstance is an opportunity for growth, development, and progression. When we’ve gotten through it, and we see how it taught us, embrace what we learned, we can celebrate our development. Barbara Johnson encourages us to:

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Growth can be painful, uncomfortable, and scary. But E.V. reminds us, “Like a wildflower you must allow yourself to grow in all the places people though you never would.”
That applies to you and your neurodiverse loved-one too. We are often capable of so much more than we realize. The same is true of those in our lives living with neurodiversity. We must learn when they need a little water, more or less sunlight, and how to come beside them so we can grow to be all we were meant to be, together.

Our community partner and resource spotlight for the month of March– Sarah Haworth, Director of Dance Dynasty, shares:

“Blossom and Grow” is a perfect theme to describe the benefits of structured activities. If your child doesn’t get a chance to try a hobby and commit to it for a series of weeks, then you aren’t able to give them a potential for growth. Even if you think “It isn’t for my child” or “they could never do that,” sometimes they will surprise you. And with individuals with neurodiversity, it is even more important that you don’t just try it once, but several times before you conclude that it isn’t a good fit. They need time to acclimate to a new surroundings, new expectations, and new people. Growth will sometimes sneak up on you. 

In January of 2016, I started a special needs ballroom dance program. I am not a therapist, nor did I have any training at the time on how to work with individuals with special needs. My staff and I are professional ballroom dancers. I just saw an opportunity for a fun, once-a-week dance class. It all started with a boy with down syndrome named Michael. His sister was taking lessons at the studio and so he always came with her and his mom and sat and watched the lessons. He would have big headphones on and would just bop to the music while she danced. One day, I had an open session, and I went up to this smiling boy and asked him if he wanted to dance with me. After ten minutes, I turned to his mom, and said “How would you feel if I started a special needs dance program”? I put out the word to our current adult students, and I was shocked at how many of them knew someone that had a special need. Within a few days, I had my first three to start a class – A man with autism, a girl with epilepsy, and Michael, with down syndrome. After a week, I had almost ten students. In a month, fifteen students. And now, 6 years later, I am proud to have over 150 special needs students across 4 Dynasty Dance Clubs locations, and many more students in our school-based programs. 
I remember very clearly one parent in those early days – her son had Level 2 Autism and was in his teens. I remember her saying to me “This is just a fun activity for him. I don’t really expect him to be able to do it.” Within 6 months he was performing in front of hundreds of people at a national event – and the best part was – he LOVED it. At that same event, another boy with autism was surprised with a trophy at the conclusion of our performance. He turned to look at me and held up his trophy “Ms. Sarah look, look!!! I got a trophy!” To me, this wasn’t a big deal, I thought. Kids get trophies for everything these days. But, his next words melted my heart – “My brothers get them all the time! But this is my first one!!!” Almost in tears, I vowed to always continue with this program.

 Another mom told me, “Look, I know my son is not as able as some of your other students. (he has down syndrome, autism, and physical mobility issues). Just don’t kick him out please… just let him stand in the back so he can be a part of something.” Kick him out?? Why would I kick him out? And stand in the back? No way – he is learning the steps and I have the same expectations for him as the other kids. So, what, if it takes him a little longer? He WILL do it! Now, that boy has performed at competitions and went from not being able to close his feet and waddling, to standing upright and actually doing a Waltz box and closing his feet.
Many people think “ballroom dancing is for old people.” But the sport itself offers so much to people of all ages and abilities. In the beginner classes, skills such as knowing left from right foot, stretching our arms and limbs to their maximum, and following directions are the first steps. As we learn the basics of the waltz, tango, and salsa we learn to listen to the music and count out numbers to the beat. Then, we learn how to move in sequence to the music. After we learn how to do the dances side-by-side, then we experience how to move together with a partner – How do we ask a partner to dance? What is the proper way to touch a partner? Where do we look when we are dancing with a partner? How to make eye contact and maintain it throughout the dance? How do we thank a partner at the end of a dance? How do we escort our partners off the dance floor? This etiquette is vital to ballroom dancing, but it can carry over to other parts of their lives. Finally, we are ready to do performances to fun music. This gives us a sense of accomplishment and a goal to work towards. Students understand that they are working towards something, and that they can’t let their partners down. Each student’s journey is a little different. Some students stay in that first phase for a year or two. Others move to partner dancing within the first month. Classes are tailored so that students are in an appropriate peer group and skill level. Above all, if given a chance, students succeed, make new friends, and are physically active. 

What I stated above are just a few personal experiences I have with giving students the opportunity to blossom. It doesn’t have to be ballroom dancing. It could be another activity. But the point is, if you want them to grow, find something to allow them to do so! You never know unless you try!

As we head into spring, I hope that you will take some time to think how you can bloom where you’re planted. If you’re in the Tampa Bay area, I would like to personally invite you to our Advocacy Support Group on March 11th where you will get to meet different organizations and providers like Dynasty Dance Company who exist to help you in blossoming and growing right where you’re planted today. Please see the details below.
March ASG Flyer
Before I go today, can I encourage you to:
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We want to have a growth mindset for sure. Letting our circumstances and difficulties be our teachers to help us blossom. But it’s a process. Blooming requires patience… endurance… fortitude… resilience… but with the right components there is no limit to how spectacularly we can flourish.

As you see flowers in bloom and as we head into spring, think about how you are blossoming and helping the neurodiverse loved ones in your life glow in all of their colorful glory!

Until next month,

Ivory Granger
Family Resource Coordinator
Sandi Lynn Geller Memorial Family Resource Center
A Program of Learning Independence for Tomorrow (LiFT)