Summer Institute On Theology and Disability

I must admit, I was a bit nervous about going to the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability in Dallas June 16-20. Traveling is difficult for me due to all the stimulation and cognitive overload and I don’t do well in new environments. I need to be familiar with them because too much cognitive work, overloads my brain.

earplugsHowever, I was prepared. I brought a bottle of Sandalwood that I could inhale periodically. It’s a relaxing scent and it calms me down. I also brought my earplugs. Michael loaded some meditations and music on my phone so I could listen to them. All of this helped me so much and I didn’t have a repeat of last year’s escapade.

Last year, it was in Toronto and I went by myself. I’d never been out of the country before (accept when I was little and went to Mexico) so dealing with passports and such was very hard for me. Plus the Toronto airport is difficult to maneuver and having spatial orientation issues didn’t help. I know my limits and am very good at finding a quiet place where I can put in my earplugs and “rest my brain.”

However, last summer, I pushed beyond my brain’s capacities and began acting a bit strange. At one point I got so tired, I simply laid down under a table in the middle of a meeting so I could sleep. It is hard to explain, but there comes a point when my brain just shuts off which is what happened to me. To make matters worse, I couldn’t sleep at night so sometimes I simply roamed the halls in the dormitory where we stayed.

I was convinced Michael had died so I called him at work. When I got him, I was sure he was in the hospital lying to me so he put his boss on the phone. I was so “out-of-it” I figured his boss wasn’t telling me the truth either. There was a United Church of Christ (UCC) meeting going on at the same time and I was sure I saw Mark Ramsey, the pastor at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, there because he once served a church dually aligned with the Presbyterians and the UCC’s.

I even called the director at 2 AM and met him out in the hallway just to talk. Of course we were sitting on the floor but at one point, I decided I was tired and needed to lay down using the director’s lap as a pillow!  To make a long story short, he had no choice but to hospitalize me even though he was aware of what was going on. Of course the hospital had no idea so they ran all sorts of test. They called Michael to come get me but no one told him very much so he had no idea what to expect.

Sleep is what works for me so I slept in the hospital for hours. When I started to become more present, I realized I was stuck in the hospital until Michael came to get me. It turned out, Michael was so stressed that when he got to Toronto, he went to the Quaker meeting. He figured he couldn’t get me for 48 hours any way so he turned his phone off. Not being able to get ahold of him, I started to get nervous and called a few folks I knew in Asheville to no avail. All I could do was wait for him to come, which he finally did.

So this year, Michael came as my “attendant.” I asked him to attend to my needs by bringing me breakfast in bed one morning, but he refused. I’ll write about the Institute in later posts because I have much on which to reflect. One of the things I want to write about is the terminology for those of us who need a little help. While “attendant” is better than “care giver” I prefer “care partner” even though I understand the difficulties in using this term.

In case you’re interested, here is a link to an article that ran in a Methodist publication. If you look carefully, you can see me in red on the far side of the room. http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/theology-and-disability-summit-gets-united-methodist-welcome

Errorless Learning


First Presbyterian Church in Asheville opens there fellowship hall on Saturday afternoons for what they call “Saturday Sanctuary.” During the winter months no homelessness services are provided so this program offers a place to come out of the cold. The program began in a small building behind the main chruch but it grew making that room too small so now they open their fellowship hall. This space is much larger which makes it easier for me. Clean-up of the smaller space took much less time but in spite of the added time for clean-up, I think it is much more hospitable.

However, it is not a good environment for someone with a brain injury. It was especially difficult for me in the smaller room since all the noise provided several challenges for me: dividing attention, cognitive overload, over stimulation: to name a few. However I have a real interest in issues around homelessness so I decided since the shifts were only two hours, I would try it.

There have been times when it is boring. I try to talk with folks but often no one wanted to converse so I just stood around until it was time for clean-up. This past Saturday, I made a point to try and play a game with some folks. I wanted to play Jenga but I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to play. Instead, folks wanted to play dominoes which I have never played so I thought I’d learn.

I forgot about all the challenges of trying to learn in this environment. Our table was close to the television where people watched a movie. Since I’m not able to divide my attention, trying to block it out was impossible. I thought about asking if the other folks wanted to move away from the sound but I wasn’t sure I could get the hang of dominoes and didn’t want them to go to all that trouble.

I learned that dominoes involves adding. I did not excel at math prior to my brain injury but now trying to add anything is just plain embarrassing. I have to use an Android application to help me figure out a tip for restaurant meals and my restaurant tabs are usually pretty low. I use compensatory strategies such as a calculator or my Android app but I thought it would look pretty silly for me to pull out a calculator to play dominoes!

I think dominoes is a fairly simple game and if I was in a quiet place with lots of explanation, I’m sure I could learn . Learning new information is very difficult for someone with a brain injury. The best way to learn new information is called “errorless learning.” For example, if I’m trying to learn how to do something on this blog, I’ll write down the directions and then follow them over and over again. After several times, I might try to do part of it without the directions.

“Trial and error” learning does not work for brain injury survivors. Errors confuse the learning process and only frustrates the person. “Errorless learning” may seem odd but it really does work. I will quit trying after only a few times which is why “trial and error” does not work. . In fact, I posted the rainbow at the top of the page without using my directions at all. I’m working at trying to find the directions for posting pictures somewhere else in the blog but for now they will all be at the top.

If you have a brain injury, do you use “errorless learning” to learn new information? See top right for commenting instructions. I tried to see if I could post a comment and I was able to do so. My problem now is, I don’t know how to delete my comment!