What does it feel like to be in an inclusive as well as embracing milieu? Yesterday, Lucy and I spent six hours in the company of people who demonstrated what open hearts and minds mean. My instinctive reading of the group told me they were a mixed bag of neurotypical and neurodiverse from all walks of life. It was a grueling two day workshop for art educators, but to me, on the very simple basic level, we were just earnest humans sharing experiences and insights, inspiring one another to develop professional and personal skills, strategies and perceptions. Artistic practice is truly a cogent agency for empathic edification.

On the personal front, it was such a wonderful feeling to speak frankly about my sensory states without being told I am “too precious” or to “suck it up” or that I am imagining things; to be able to withdraw from the cacophony and sit quietly with Lucy to refresh and regroup without being cajoled to join in the fun and games, but instead receiving gentle and non-intrusive offers of simple things like food and water to help make me more comfortable in my silent cocoon. One lady even offered an entire empty room with a soft couch for us to sit in undisturbed. I chose to sit in the common area but nobody bothered us or even looked at us strangely at all, and they only came to chat when they saw that I was looking up and smiling, ready for interactive engagement.

Even the police officer was wonderfully kind, putting us into the taxi with such smooth but firm authority. She saw me sitting with Lucy at the stone bench outside the Sydney Opera House, clutching my phone and stroking Lucy. I must’ve look bedraggled and deflated, I guess, because that was my inner state at that moment, having been rejected by two taxi drivers despite it being the law that they must not reject a person with an assistance dog. The police officer approached us smiling at Lucy and asked, “Is she really an assistance dog?” I said yes and we chatted briefly about what Lucy does for me, and the police officer remarked how horrible the Greyhound racing industry is and how she was so glad to see a Greyhound being an assistance dog instead. She seemed to know something about Greyhounds too, because she said they are misunderstood and actually make great pets! When she flagged down the taxi, the driver tried to refuse us because of Lucy, but she just informed the driver it was the lawful thing to do, calmly took Lucy’s mat from me and laid it out neatly on the seat, and smilingly told Lucy to jump in. No more resistance from that driver, he was most polite throughout the journey. For goodwill, I gave him a generous tip at the end and thanked him warmly.

This was the fortification I so needed. I had been on the verge of despair, staring into the abyss of futility, wondering why I was bothering to bang my head against brick walls trying to bring a novel perspective to people who were not interested in benefiting from the expansion I was offering, being kicked in the teeth by the very people I was trying to help, that is, the autistic community and the autism research community. After yesterday, I came away exhausted and pushed near to sensory meltdown, but emotionally and intellectually encouraged. Meeting and being a part of this group, even if only for those six hours, realigned my teetering spirits, reaffirmed my professional mission, and renewed my belief that there are still people who want to hear what I have to say, and who have themselves a message that I want to hear and receive in exchange. Such Grace. It was well worth the exertion and pushing myself to the frayed edges of sensory tolerance!

Thank you to the amazing artist David Capra and his sweetheart sausage doggy Teena for inviting me and Lucy to this invigorating event. And to Susannah Thorne (Bella Programme Manager) too, for being such a generous channel of goodness!

Clemency is becoming a key word in my wonderful Bunnyhopscotch journey indeed! As my friend Rick would say, “dogliness!”

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