Neurodivergence, Trauma, and Special Needs! Strength-Based Tips for Fostering Healthy Family Time with Expert Bri DeRosa

IAOL 19 | Neurodiversity

 

Neurodiversity—the idea that each person experiences and interacts with the world around them in different ways—is a truly empowering concept. When we remove labels that promote a view of the self or others that is deficit-focused and embrace a strength-based approach, we reduce bias and judgment while promoting acceptance and forward momentum. I’ve certainly found that there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, behaving, or communicating. The key for ourselves and others is to focus on fostering beliefs and inclusive environments that recognize and emphasize each person’s individual strengths while also providing support for differences and needs. From diving into the lasting effects of childhood trauma to offering strategies that honor neurodivergence, Dr. Carla and expert Bri DeRosa focus on simple, actionable steps that lead to big changes. Personal healing and interpersonal connection naturally arise when we discover how to foster understanding, acceptance, and safety.

 

Books by Dr. Carla Manly: 

Date Smart: Transform Your Relationships and Love Fearlessly 

Joy From Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend  

Aging Joyfully: A Woman’s Guide to Optimal Health, Relationships, and Fulfillment for Her 50s and Beyond 

The Joy of Imperfect Love: The Art of Creating Healthy, Securely Attached Relationships

 

Connect with Dr. Carla Manly: 

Website: https://www.drcarlamanly.com 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drcarlamanly/ 

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/drcarlamanly/ 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/drcarlamanly 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carla-marie-manly-8682362b/ 

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@dr.carlamariemanly8543 

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@dr_carla_manly

Watch the episode here

 

Listen to the podcast here

 

Neurodivergence, Trauma, and Special Needs! Strength-Based Tips for Fostering Healthy Family Time with Expert Bri DeRosa

Embrace Easy, Can-Do Strategies to Foster Fun, Harmony, and Healing at Home and Beyond

Neurodiversity, the idea that each person experiences and interacts with the world around them in different ways is an empowering concept. When we remove labels that promote the view of the self and others that is deficit-focused rather than strength-focused, we can reduce bias and judgment while promoting acceptance and forward momentum.

I’ve certainly found that there is no one right way of thinking, learning, behaving, or communicating. The key for ourselves and others is to focus on fostering beliefs and inclusive environments that recognize and emphasize each person’s individual strengths while also providing support for differences and needs.

In this episode, we’ll focus on this reader’s real-life question, “I was diagnosed with a learning disorder in grade school. I was pulled out of the classroom for special classes and was teased by other kids. My dad’s habit of calling me stupid didn’t help. I’ve always felt excluded and odd whether at home, school, or work. My partner and I have a little girl who is about to enter kindergarten. I think she’s on the spectrum and I don’t want her to feel shamed or judged. What do you suggest?” With that question as the focus of this episode, I’m Dr. Carla Marie Manly and this is Imperfect Love.

 

IAOL 19 | Neurodiversity

 

I’m joined by a very special guest, Bri DeRosa who will be sharing her expertise on neurodiversity special needs and the differences families can make in big and small ways. Welcome to the show, Bri. It’s such a delight to have you.

Thanks so much for having me back. I’m excited to be here with you again. I always love being on your show.

Thank you, and you have so much experience and information to share. Before we launch into the episode and respond to this reader’s very important question, could you tell our readers who may not have heard your other episode a little bit about what makes you you?

Neurodiversity—the idea that each person experiences and interacts with the world around them in different ways—is a vital concept. By taking a strength-based approach, healing happens! Join Dr. Carla and expert Bri DeRosa to discover simple changes… Click To Tweet

I’m here as always representing my role as content manager for The Family Dinner Project, as a parent and as the parent of a neurodivergent child. As someone who has the background, I’ve worked in many settings with neurodivergent kids and families. I’m excited to be here talking about things like family dinners, the setup at home, and the family systems that can support people like your reader who wrote in with this incredible question.

It’s a few sentences but it’s a deep question because it goes to a lot of different issues. Would you please share a little bit with our readers a little more about the Family Dinner Project for people who don’t know what it is?

The Family Dinner Project is a nonprofit program of the Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry Academy. We’ve been around for a little over a decade now. We exist because there are decades of research that demonstrate and continue to demonstrate that family dinners or family mealtimes are good for people, kids, adults, and everybody.

Healing and connection naturally arise when we discover how to foster healthy patterns. From diving into the lasting effects of childhood trauma to offering strategies that honor neurodivergence, Dr. Carla and expert Bri DeRosa focus on simple steps… Click To Tweet

They benefit in physical ways, neurological ways, academically, socially, and emotionally. It reduces risk factors for teens. There are a lot of good things about family meals, but it’s hard to bring people together at the table, especially in modern family life. Only about 30% of families report being able to have regular meals together. We exist to be the how and to help families overcome the many challenges and obstacles to marrying food, fun, and conversation about things that matter, which we believe are the three ingredients that make family meals protective and special.

Food, fun, and conversation, I love that. It made me take a step back when I heard that stat about only 30% of families managed to have a meal together on a regular basis. We’re not even talking about dinner. That’s such an interesting statistic because it tells us that 70% of families are not able to do that and no blame or shame, but how interesting that mealtime is often. Especially dinner time, when things are winding down.

It is often that perfect place to catch up, to put tech, homework, and business aside, and to say, “Here I am. How are you? What’s been going on for you?” I know that sounds easy. It sounds easy in theory. Let’s sit down and have a family dinner together, but in practice for parents, whether you’re two parents in a household or single parent, it can be carving out even 45 minutes. It can feel like, “How am I going to do that?”

 

IAOL 19 | Neurodiversity

 

Through the lens of the question, which is paying special attention to how people who are working with special needs, parents’ kids, and neurodivergence. How can we create these simple opportunities to maybe reduce some shame, make a positive difference, and help promote a more open and less biased way of looking at the world where people are seen through their so-called weaknesses rather than their strengths?

I want to also call out right at the beginning of this conversation that it can even be especially difficult for families like your readers whose question we’re talking about and for a family that is dealing with neurodivergence at the adult or the child level, in this case, both, to have a connection promoting family meal. I’m going to call up that there’s a little chime going up in the background.

That’s okay. It helps us know that everything is perfect and we love imperfection on this show.

I’m a whole real human with my own family dynamics. There was wash going in the background that let me know it was done with a charming little song that it plays. Apologies for the side track, but it can be difficult for family meals to be connected, calm, and regulation-promoting when you also have neurodivergence at the table. It’s because the very fact of this reader’s child potentially she says being on the spectrum, that itself comes with a whole host of possible reasons why mealtime could be difficult for that child and for the parents to navigate for that child in a supportive and loving way. There’s a lot here that we can talk about.

Let’s start with a parent. How would this parent be approaching mealtime in a way that respects their issues and learning? There are a lot of shame-based thoughts going on in the background. Thanks to the teasing and comments by Dad. This parent is coming in with their own fears, issues, and shame. What could you recommend so that mealtime isn’t triggering?

That is such a great question because right off the bat, we’ve got potential mealtime trauma. Part of creating a welcoming table, I’m going to name here we have an initiative at the Family Dinner Project called the Welcoming Table, which is a whole series of resources that we are continuing to build out that are around these very tricky issues of supporting families who are dealing with neurodivergence and traumas. All kinds of things that go beyond the scope of typical family dinner challenges.

Trauma is such a multi-layered issue when you’re talking about mealtimes. A parent may feel some kind of, to use your word, trigger at the family dinner table or family mealtimes because of this history that has been described here. First thing first. That parent deserves their own support network. This is something they need to work on for themselves away from the table, whether that’s therapy, emotional support from a partner, or preferably both.

Also, reaching out to friends, starting to process some of those issues of self-esteem, and what it feels like to be at the table in an environment that possibly triggers that feeling of this is not safe and this is not emotionally comforting to me. First, being able to work through that, name and understand where that comes from, and give themselves some grace.

The other thing is to have some coping mechanisms in place that they can use both away from and at the table. If you’ve got a little deep breathing exercise that you can do that works well to calm your nervous system and you can do that away from the table, that’s step one. You know that you have that reserve that you can call upon at the table.

If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, you can take that pause and take that minute to do some box breathing. You can even let your family know. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Sometimes when Mommy feels overwhelmed, mom needs to do a little breathing exercise. I’m going to take a minute to do it now so that I can feel calm and happy with you.” Let your family and your child see that you are caring for yourself. That’s an okay and expected thing for people to do.

That’s powerful. Before I let you jump back in on the conversation here, the third thing is to come up with some way to make your own family dinner routine. Start off and feel predictable and safe to you and your family members when you come to the table each night. Maybe it’s as simple as for this person. Maybe they feel good about lighting the candles on the table before they sit down every night.

It's important to come up with some way to make your own family dinner routine start off and feel predictable and safe to you and to your family members when you come to the table each night. Click To Tweet

Maybe they feel good about transitioning into mealtime with a playlist that they like or with holding hands around the table and smiling at each other and saying one reason that they’re happy to be there together and whatever that little ritual is that helps them transition in. Remember, this is their space now. This is not the space from their childhood. This is theirs, their ritual, and their family meal to own and claim for whatever feels good for them.

I am sitting here so stunned by what you said because it is very rich and very deep. Even though we didn’t plan on talking about mealtime trauma, I am so glad you did. I would say in my private practice over the years, a huge proportion, maybe 80% of my clients, especially those with eating issues, self-esteem issues, and body issues have mealtime trauma. We don’t talk about it enough and people don’t realize that it is an aspect of trauma.

Whether you’re being told while you’re reaching for a slice of bread, “You shouldn’t have bread,” or a comment like, “You don’t need to get any fatter than you are,” or somebody building out three pieces of pasta and saying, “This is all you get because you’re too chubby.” All of these things that are in people’s minds that make them go through life, if they haven’t addressed it, trauma sticks with us until we address it.

Trauma does not know chronological time. If the trauma starts when you’re a year old, 5 or 6 years old and you never address it, you’re now 40, 50, 60, 30, or 20 years old, that trauma is still going to be there often ruling you on consciously. I love how you have spelled out these steps for saying, “First, Mom, Dad, caregiver, process your trauma. Let it come up in a safe way and in a safe space with the psychotherapist or support group.”

Process that trauma. Readers, I want to spell out her steps again in very short form because they are so worth drawing attention to. First, calm yourself. Box breathing is a wonderful breathing tool. Quickly popping back to you, Bri, could you let our readers know because there are so many breathing exercises you can do, four-part breathing, and pin dot breathing? All of the ones that I mentioned in my book Joy from Fear, there are so many ways to breathe and calm your nervous system. Would you please describe box breathing?

I recommended it here because it’s so easy to do and quick. It’s very simple. You’re going to start by breathing in through your nose and you’re going to exhale through your mouth. When you breathe in through your nose, you’re going to count in slowly of four as you breathe. You’re going to hold for four seconds and you’re going to breathe out through your mouth for four seconds. You’re regulating that 4, 4, 4, and so on.

It’s very symmetrical and simple. It’s the in through your nose and out through your mouth. It’s very quick for many people. It is effective in bringing your nervous system down. It takes everything from here to here quickly. It’s a powerful tool that adults can use but also simple enough to be able to demonstrate it to a child, which is super helpful.

I know with my own kids when they were little, I sometimes would try to help them understand the concept of breathing out through their mouth by asking them to pretend they were blowing out a candle or blowing up a balloon. You can also add some imagery to that for kids that is simple and effective and helps them grasp what you’re trying to do.

Thank you for making it very simple. I was working with a client who had started doing box breathing because I’d recommend it in a session. When we did his last session, he said, “I’m doing it all the time. People are stopping me and asking me if I’m okay. I hold up my hand and I say I’m okay. I’m just breathing.”

I’m maybe the most okay that I’ve been all day. This is my space.

He said he couldn’t believe what a difference it’s making because he tends to race around. Don’t we all often? Far too often, when we’re stressed and do that racing thing, box breathing, or any other type of breathing exercise can bring you back to the here and now and calm your nervous system. What a good model this is clearly for other people in the world who get curious about what is this person doing. Back to the home, it’s being a wonderful role model for kids of all ages to say, “Mom, Dad, caregiver, they get stressed too and it’s okay for me to pause and self-regulate or down-regulate.”

It’s not just okay. It’s like an expectation when you model these things for your kids and they see you do it. It’s like we say, “You should model healthy eating. If you want your kid to be a reader, you should let them see you read.” If you want your kid to have good self-regulation skills and good self-care skills, you have to let them see you do that.

For this particular question that we have, what an important thing because self-care, self-regulation, and feeling okay about being able to cope in any given situation, these things are so important when you’re navigating the world with a learning difference, you’re on the autism spectrum, or you have some other neurological difference that makes you feel in this reader’s words the odd man out. You need those kinds of skills and that platform for yourself to be able to give back to yourself and share that with your child.

 

 

It’s such a wonderful point. Thank you for emphasizing it. We have the calming the self. We already moved into point two a little deeper which is the model of self-care. I made a note. You’re also modeling self-awareness because the minute you pause and say, “Mommy or Daddy, I need a break.” You’re showing I’m aware of whether I’m getting frustrated, angry, lonely, tired, sad, or exhausted. It’s okay. I’m aware of this and I’m going to pause and take a moment.

You breathe is the modeling and I love the third one. I’m a big ritual person. You’re talking about the importance of these simple, calming, and soothing rituals like light candles, doing your favorite playlist, doing a blessing, gratitude, grace, or whatever it is that you like to do. I know for me, sometimes, it’s fun to set places like napkins for placemats, drinks, and water. It’s a very lovely ritual and kids can learn those rituals as well. Sharing what was going on with your day while you’re setting the table. Doing these rituals that are wired into the body and the brain. This is a time that’s going to be fun, relaxing, and connective. Thank you for those three highlights.

You’re welcome. I want to also point out to our reader that these transition techniques are key for a lot of kids who might be on the autism spectrum, ADHD, or some other challenge that makes transitions, in particular, difficult for them. This reader hasn’t even named whether or not this child who they believe is on the spectrum. By the way, I hope that they’re going to get a confirmation for this kid because diagnosis is power. Knowledge is power and I’m sure that they will.

They suspect that this is a child on the autism spectrum and that, to me, suggests that there is very much a possibility that this child has difficulty shifting gears. Lots of little kids have a tough time with transitions. Little kids who are on the spectrum, have ADHD, or something else going on have a lot of trouble with transitions frequently.

The whole act of trying to get this child to come to the table, sometimes we hear from parents that in and of itself is a deal breaker because this kid is so dysregulated around transitions alone. The whole stopping playtime, stopping your TV show, or whatever else you’re doing to come, sit, and eat is disruptive and upsetting to that.

I want to make sure that we’re very clear with parents here. As you said in your intro, we’re strength-based. We’re not deficit-based. None of this should be about fixing the kid. This is about fixing the way we set up the environment and our own understanding and responses to this child’s needs. If they’re having trouble transitioning to dinner, it’s not about them. It’s about communicating something to us that we need to help them and support them in that transition.

Having rituals and expectations that they can hang their hat on a little bit, know what’s going to come, and know every night when this happens, that means it’s part of leading me from this to this and building in lots of time and getting input from that kid, too. Maybe they want to pick the music or they want to pick the way that we open a family meal, but getting them through that time and into mealtime is almost as important as anything else that you’re going to do at the table.

 

 

Thank you for that piece. It is so important and one that took me a while to learn as an individual. In the adult mind, you’re planning A, B, and C down to step Z maybe the moment you come home so you know where you’re headed. You have this linear idea or somewhat linear idea of what is happening and your child does not. They’re not inside your head so we expect them or we snap our fingers and say, “Clean your room. Do your homework.”

We’re not honoring that they need to have some control and sense of the lay of the land. Thank you for highlighting that because we often forget it. It’s like if somebody snaps their fingers and says to me, “Come here now.” “I’m in the middle of something. Let me finish or give me some notice that it’s time to go.” We want to do that same thing for our little ones even more so, realizing kids can get immersed in their activities.

We all can but we want to treat them in a respectful way. If we’re able to include them, that’s often fun, but to give maybe a 10-minute warning then a 5-minute alert and say, “It’s time. Will you come help me lay out the placemats?” By doing that, we are honoring and allowing them to transition in an easier way. It’s not that’s going to be simple.

I also love the part that you called out about expectations because we all, no matter how free-flowing we are, like consistency. We like to be able to predict things. A parent setting as consistent a schedule as possible and as consistent rituals because even if the schedule is a bit unpredictable, the child by seeing the rituals, “Mommy is lighting the candle. Daddy is laying out the placemats. Daddy is taking out the recycling. That means it’s almost dinner time.” We are seeing, “They’re putting out the drinks. There goes the milk. There’s the water. There’s mommy’s cup of tea.” They see this as a predictable schedule and kids love predictability. Don’t you think?

Kids love predictability. By the way, we talked about trauma. If you have experienced trauma or your child has experienced trauma, predictability is one of the things that is going to help you come back from that and create more of that sense of safety that is missing in your brain stem. You’ve got to have predictability before you can build success at a family mealtime.

Kids love predictability. You've got to have predictability before you can build success at a family mealtime. Click To Tweet

Thank you. Could you say that in different words one more time to emphasize it for our readers? Again, readers, never shame and never blame here. It is about realizing there are little tweaks we can all make even for parents on the run. If you’re parenting on the run or eating dinner on the run, that’s okay. You can still make it. Every time we’re eating in the car on the way to soccer practice, this will be our ritual. This is the way we’ll do it. Please, emphasize that piece.

I’ll say it again. If you have experienced any trauma or lack of safety around meal times, unpredictability, and transition issues, before that person is going to be able to feel safe, comfortable, and participate in that meal time in a way that others see as successful or whatever label we’re putting around that, they need predictability.

We have to build a predictable structure so their brain starts to recognize what safety looks like. That’s so important not just for trauma survivors, people on the autism spectrum, and all of our neurodivergent friends and family but it’s important for all of us because you call out like eating in the car, on the run, and in the rush. Many of us are in a place of constant rush and hurry around family meals and around this whole evening routine that we are training ourselves to engage in meals in a very fight or flight way.

So many of us are actually in a place of constant rush and hurry around family meals and around this whole evening routine that we are actually training ourselves to engage in meals in a very kind of fight or flight way. Click To Tweet

What are we doing? We’re training ourselves to see mealtime as a hassle or something that we just survive and not something that can help us thrive. It’s building in whatever that routine or ritual is. If you’re eating in the car and that’s all you’ve got, great. What are we putting on the stereo in the car? What are we listening to that we all listen to together that helps us get ready to eat? What is the thing? Are we calling out a specific type of conversation starter each time that we’re eating in the car and making sure that everybody gets a turn to engage? Whatever that is to wrap predictability around something that feels very unstructured can be super beneficial to making it feel more rewarding.

As you’re speaking, I’m envisioning this family who has to get to soccer practice. Let’s pre-pack little bag lunches. Let’s have our carrots, our sandwich, dessert and apple. We have that. Everybody now takes their lunches to the car. It doesn’t have to be fancy. We have lunch and dinner. We’re saying, “Now this part of it is done. Let’s enjoy the drive to soccer, to Grandma’s house, or to art class.”

Again, I love that piece where we can make it so we’re not in fight or flight mode where our nervous system is downregulated. We’re calm, having fun, and using mealtime to connect and to get through. It’s interesting we keep bringing trauma into the mix. It’s one of the reasons when we see meal times, especially around holidays or birthdays, people get triggered. All of those old family dynamics and unhealed wounds come out. You add on, unfortunately, those who drink a lot of alcoholic beverages.

Now we’re adding that to the mix. A lot of people hold on to those sad and scary memories from childhood and they carry over into Holiday meals or birthday festivities going all awry because of the unresolved issues underneath that sometimes can’t fully be resolved if we’re still revisiting grandma’s house and grandma’s raging alcoholic. We can’t control that but we can’t control the response.

We can put boundaries around it. I’m so glad that you brought up holidays and family gatherings because this is a huge opportunity for some real challenges if you are dealing with neurodivergence. Not only do you have everything that you said and all the dynamics that we’re aware of and many more. You also have the potential for some other pitfalls here. One is that if you’re bringing a neurodivergent child into a big family gathering, sensory overload, overstimulation, and expectations for neurotypical behavior that are not within that child’s wheelhouse and capability, now you’re inviting judgment because everybody’s got that aunt who can’t keep her mouth shut about whatever it is.

It’s like, “If that were my child, I would, or why don’t your kid eat? I would never let him eat mac and cheese at Thanksgiving dinner.” You get the whole thing. People love to pile on. You’ve got this kid who maybe has poor safe foods and needs to be able to eat whatever they can eat safely, uncomfortably, and in peace, or they get overstimulated and dysregulated in crowds.

Now there are 30 people that they barely see twice a year at the family gathering who are trying to hug them and invade their personal boundaries. Maybe this is not a child who can deal with physical hugging and touching. It’s loud and smells weird. This is a recipe for real disaster if we don’t set this child and this environment up for success. There are ways to do that but it is a difficult thing. I want to like call it out and honor. First of all, anybody who feels that anxiety around these gatherings because it’s real. It’s okay that you feel anxious. There’s a reason for that.

It's okay that you feel anxious. There's a reason for that. Click To Tweet

I’m glad we’re pausing here because so many people’s childhood, dinner time was not calm, kind, consistent, and gentle. Dad was raging at the table. Kids were fighting and poking at each other, literally or figuratively. Meal is again a lot of traumas held in the body and the mind from that. When we look at those who also have neurodivergence or any other issues. On top of that, we have to appreciate that mealtime can be not only not inviting. It can be fear-inducing, anxiety inducing, and extremely stressful.

Here comes a Bri to the rescue, I’m putting a lot on you, who’s saying, “We can start undoing this. We can work on our trauma,” or simply negative patterns. It doesn’t have to be trauma. They can be negative patterns that are hardwired racing through a meal, which is not good for your digestive system and other things.

We can use mealtime as the opportunity to do some healing because every time we create healthier patterns, we are healing those parts of ourselves that need some attention, TLC, or some self-regulation. We are also healing the family because then, we’re passing this huge gift on to our partners and our kids no matter what age they are. It’s a very special time of day. This is a time of day when we get to sit, enjoy this nourishing food together, connect, and have fun.

I love that you said that about healing ourselves through the way that we approach these rituals with our kids. Thinking about this letter that we started with, one of the things that this person can do to not have her child feel stigma, shame, and weirdness is to honor this child’s needs, space, and what this child responds to in the home and the meal-time environment.

That might not look at first or maybe even ever exactly like we all sit down, napkins on our laps, eat our meal for twenty minutes in a relaxed fashion, discuss world events and how our day was, and have fun. People have this pattern in their heads that this June Cleaver-like family dinner with the pot roast and the lemon meringue pie. Everybody is scrubbed and shining and knows exactly how to behave at the table. That’s what we’re going to get to.

That’s not realistic for a lot of people. Give yourself permission first to respond to the family that you have, the people who are in your home, what they need, and build your meal times around that. If your child is uncomfortable sitting in your dining room chairs, that causes a cascade of things that make dinner uncomfortable and miserable for everybody.

Does that child need support cushions? Do they need stretchy bands around their chair legs so that they have something to push against? Do they need a footstool? Do they need you to move dinner away from the dining room table maybe for a little while and eat someplace else? Is there a kid-sized solution where they can sit near you and eat with you but in a more comfortable place? Can you eat picnic-style on the floor with a blanket?

What is the thing right that solves that for that child? What you’re saying is I see you. Your comfort matters. Your needs matter and you’re not weird. I’m not trying to shove you into this box of being a dining room chair-setting person and you’re bad and wrong if you don’t. I’m going, “That’s not what you need now. We can still eat together. That’s okay. Let’s figure out how we can do that safely and effectively for you.” The gift is I see you and I respond to you. We make this work in a way that’s rewarding for everyone.

Beautifully put, Bri. I’ll restate what you said, “Respond to the family you have.” Sometimes as you say it’s eating in one of my favorite styles, which is picnic style. I get to sit in my yoga position. Kids love often picnic style. It’s different but if it works and that’s what works for your family, picnic style it is. I love the idea of the stretchy bands maybe on the chair if I want to be seated on the table. We want to be accommodating. It may look different from what a magazine might have you believe is the right way to do it or a television show. As adults, we have the right and the responsibility to customize things to make them work for us and our families. There’s no shame in that. There’s a lot of empowerment.

The real shame is the expectations that we have that have been put on us by our society and what we think of as the right way. There is no right way to have a family meal. There are ways that are nourishing and helpful to your family and there are ways that are counterproductive to that. We know what doesn’t work for our family. Why are we going to keep trying to pursue that? Figure out what does work. Free yourselves to think about what are these barriers for this child. Does the food smell too much? Is it too much sensory?

Maybe we need to open the windows or eat outdoors if the weather permits or we need to let that child have a container of cinnamon that they can smell. If the food smell is too overwhelming, here’s something that they like smelling. They can sit there with that and that makes them feel better. What are these things that nobody tells us are okay that are super okay? Don’t let shame overwhelm you when it’s imposed by a broader culture that doesn’t sit in your house and eat your food every day.

 

 

If we’re trying to make mealtime fun, enjoyable, and connective, we simply want to look at what this individual needs. What do I need? What do we all need? It doesn’t mean it has to be more complex. Once you figure it out, then you have the tools. It may take a little time to figure out some of what you need for each child, but then it’s about using those tools and embracing them so that you can move forward and enjoy these important family connections. Maybe not day after day because you might not be able to do it day after day, but you can do pieces of it.

Regularly, you back to this or we can come back to this moment. Reminding everybody that the real power of family meals is in creating an environment where everybody in your family feels like they can show up and be themselves, relax, unfiltered, and no behavioral thing that they have to put on to be somebody. They don’t have a family dinner persona.

 

IAOL 19 | Neurodiversity

 

They are themselves and they come whole to the table. You receive them whole at the table or at the picnic blanket however they show up. That’s the power of family meals. Whenever you’re dealing with trauma or neurodivergence, or any difference, making that home environment the place where that child or that person can show up holy themselves and not feel judged and not feel diminished for that, that’s the environment you’re seeking.

It is such a beautiful way to end or draw our time together to a close. I love, again, that concept in a world where we often feel judged or shamed for being who we are. There’s school sometimes bullying or out in the world, feeling shamed or judged. If we can make family meal time even in the smallest of ways, this sacred space where we get to enjoy each other and welcome each other as we are in a whole way.

We don’t want to be yelling and screaming at each other. We don’t want to talk about that. We’re talking about bring a good self. Bring your imperfect self to the table and welcome everyone as their imperfect selves. That allows us to connect and have family meals at a safe time of day. Depending upon what’s going on in the outside world, it can be the only truly safe time in someone’s day.

It’s perfectly put.

You set the stage with your brilliance, Bri. Thank you. Where can our readers find out more about you, the Family Dinner Project, and the book? Please talk about the amazing book that is all about family dinners.

You can find us online at TheFamilyDinnerProject.org. If you’re specifically looking for resources that are around what we’ve been talking about trauma and neurodivergence at meal times, we have our Welcoming Table initiative. You can either search Welcoming Table on our website. Usually, we have it right on the homepage or TheFamilyDinnerProject.org/Welcoming-Table.

We also, as you’ve mentioned, have a book. It’s called Eat, Laugh, Talk: The Family Dinner Playbook. It is 52 weeks of menus, games, conversation starters, and stories from real families about what worked and didn’t work for them and how they creatively solved some of what we’ve been talking about. All of these things that make it hard to have a mealtime that works for us and how they got to that place of, “This is what works for us.” All of their ideas and brilliance are in there as well. You can find Eat, Laugh, Talk anywhere that books are sold.

I have a copy of it. It is gorgeous. It is a great gift too. It is a great gift for families, moms, dads, caregivers, grandma or grandpa because it brings us back to some of these basics of how to have fun and make mealtime fun, enjoyable, and your own.

Have a great time together.

Thank you again, Bri. It has been such a joy and a pleasure. Readers, thank you for your time with us. It has been such a joy and a pleasure.

Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.

Thank you, Bri, and thank you, readers. This is Imperfect Love.

 

Important Links

 

About Bri DeRosa

IAOL 19 | NeurodiversityBri DeRosa is a communications consultant and freelance writer with a background in service learning, arts education, and creative and dramatic writing. She’s spent over a decade working in program development and creative initiatives, largely for non-profits and small businesses. Bri has been the Content Manager at The Family Dinner Project since 2014, has contributed to three cookbooks, and practices her family dinner skills every night at home with her husband and two teenage sons. The Family Dinner Project is a non-profit initiative of the Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry Academy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *