- Sarah Nannery
Building Community: Felicity House
Late last year and early in 2020, I had the pleasure of attending several events at a beautiful organization in New York City called Felicity House.
Felicity House is an organization founded by a woman on the spectrum to create positive, creative, and community-building space for women with autism. They host everything from a book club to a movie night to scientific lectures and specialized activities like terrarium-making and chocolate-tasting. Their focus is not clinical, nor like that of a support group - they are purely a social outlet and sense of #home for autistic women. For any woman on the spectrum who is looking for a safe space to make friends or just to hang out and do cool things, I would definitely recommend them.
I for sure knew I was home when I walked into the restroom while I was there for an event, and spotted a framed Weasley family photo next to the sink, just sitting there like it was any old photograph someone might have around the house... #HarryPotterGeek
Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Felicity House has unfortunately had to postpone all in-person events, which can make their mission of community building quite difficult.
Nevertheless, they continue to stay in touch - not in any kind of sale-sy way (all of their events are free for autistic women), but in a gentle, "we're here for you even though we can't be physically here" kind of way.
Just last week, I received this care package in the mail from them, and it was exactly what my heart desired in this troubled time (minus perhaps a bar of dark chocolate, but hey, that's not everybody's cup of tea...):
The care package included a box of chamomile tea, an adult coloring book, a set of colored pencils, and even a pencil sharpener. What else does one need while sitting out a pandemic? (Uh, lots of other things, like, maybe, toilet paper, but let's just pretend for a second, okay?) =D
Getting that surprise box in the mail gave me a chance to smile in a way that I haven't smiled in weeks. Anxiety running high lately, anyone?
It also made me remember some of the really fun times that I had at Felicity House.
Like the one time I dug to my heart's content into a giant box of fabric markers and stencils of all colors and sizes and decorated my very own tote bag:
(Did I mention I am a Harry Potter fanatic??? - Quote on the bag from Book 1, by the way...)
But the tote bag wasn't even the coolest part. The coolest part was doing it alongside other women, each one having as much fun as I was, each putting our own personalities and ideas into action on our own bags. While we worked, the event facilitators prompted light, gentle conversation - the kind where you don't really have to chime in if you don't want to and it doesn't feel awkward, but it also feels nice to contribute because there is no judgement, no conflict, no pressure.
Our main focus was the novelty of the art project, but we were all in a comfortable enough atmosphere to devote some brain space to making side conversation with each other.
Apparently there is a name for this kind of interaction, where everyone's main focus is on some kind of shared activity or experience, rather than directly on socializing with each other: it's called "parallel play." Like if you're going to see a movie or to a carnival with a group of friends, or if you meet someone at a lecture or other event where you're there for the content and not necessarily just to meet people.
Parallel play is one of the best ways to make new friends or interact with old friends for someone who may not be the most interested or skilled at direct socializing. It kind of takes the pressure off of the social interaction, and gives you an immediate shared context to talk about.
A place like Felicity House understands this, and takes care to structure interesting "parallel play" activities for women on the spectrum to begin to make new friends and connections on our own terms.
When all this is over, I can't wait to go back!