Autonomic Self: Supporting students and families
Fifteen years ago I started a blog, Autonomic Junkie, from my desk at the local high school. Originally intended to promote healthy eating habits, I soon realized that the work I was doing impacted many students in a positive way. So I continued to blog on a small scale, and as a result, was able to create a small start-up that employed some of my fellow students.
In 2011 we launched a not-for-profit organization, The Autonomic Self, a new educational program to help normalize neurological disorders at our high school. Our staff runs daily, healthy home-school sessions using our free curriculum and videos, using technology to teach and engage the student population. However, the “kids” also perform service projects, volunteer at local organizations like the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and attend visiting speakers throughout the year.
Over the past seven years The Autonomic Self has grown to 15 additional schools, 30 adults and seven students, who volunteer and make their commitments to lead the session and make the program go.
What makes this program different?
First, we teach students to acknowledge and communicate their differences. The ability to accept different ways of living is paramount in managing various challenges of the brain, and learning to navigate our bodies as our nerve cells lose their connections, processes speed up and memory gradually deteriorate.
Schools are expensive, and our delivery model is more economical than a traditional curriculum, but the benefits are far larger: less coaching required, less time spent to plan, fewer expectations for completion of a project, the pleasure of belonging to an organization instead of an “organization,” and truly the feeling of belonging to a family and community.
The Autonomic Self enables participants to lead a session independently, because we include a variety of activities to increase communication, including listening exercises, journaling and guided visualization exercises. Our volunteers fill up a large projector screen. One student is the emcee. He begins by asking the students to be honest in revealing their strengths and weaknesses.
Sessions are based on listening exercises, journaling, guided visualization and guided movement. Before speaking, the facilitator encourages participants to join or leave the room. Then the speaker reveals themselves, their experiences and, in some cases, what tools they use to manage symptoms.
While a facilitator is often present to facilitate sharing of knowledge, our team encourages participants to practice learning skills through individual, cooperative or guided activities.
Here’s an example of some of our famous sessions:
Homework topics are created in consultation with the original teachers, while the curriculum is developed by a team of trained experts, including neuroscientists, family therapists, nutritionists, and school psychologists.
Our volunteer facilitators know each student very well, and can guide and support students during exercises for the best outcome. We have already seen participants reach their full potential as well as benefit their learning and personal fulfillment.
Other self-help books, such as Being Small and Oprah’s Super Power: Small Things We Can All Change are chock full of powerful strategies. However, like my blog, I am attempting to use unique techniques to make a difference in students’ lives, and because this movement in small, practical ways is helping keep students in school, explore their interests and discover their strengths, it is slowly gaining traction in the business world.
Autonomic “I” Action Guide: What we Do. www.AutonomicSelf.com/blog
Students and families, check out our Youtube videos, which include students speaking about a range of topics related to their lifestyles and concerns. You will see that they tend to answer questions through dialogue and role play exercises rather than long written essays.