​Neurodivergent Holidays: When Your Entire Family Is Neurodivergent & Plays a Board Game by Carrie Watts

Mental Health
a year ago

​Neurodivergent Holidays: When Your Entire Family Is Neurodivergent & Plays a Board Game

After a relaxed New Year’s Day dinner (well, as relaxed as we get in our neurodivergent household), my husband suggested that it might finally be a good time to play a board game (The Blockbuster Game) that he got last Christmas that still remained unplayed. We set out to learn the rules and get set up to start to play. By the time we took the first move, it had been more than hour. Well, all told, I guess, actually: 1 year, 1 week and, maybe, 18 hours.

Now, you may think that people should be able to purchase, learn and play a new game all in one day. But that is not how things work in this house. Why, you ask? Because, sadly, as with all things in this world, even board games are designed for the neurotypical (NT) with no consideration for accessibility needs. So, when your entire family is neurodivergent (ND), *everything* takes planning and adaptations. Moods must be assessed and expectations must be altered.

What does that mean in practice? It means time must be given. Lots and lots of time, and lots and lots of understanding. So, while a group of NT people may be able to choose a game, read the rules and start playing, a ND group will likely need to: 

  • consider all options
  • choose a reader and explainer of the rules
  • process
  • discuss
  • examine 
  • see examples of the rules in practice
  • agree alternative rules that accommodate all those playing

The burden of interpreting the game objective and translating the needs of the ND players into equitable alterations/accommodations becomes an extra stressor added to the already challenging situation of being put “on the spot” and/or having teammates depend on you. And let’s not get started on the mitigations required for dealing with the anxiety-inducing timers and buzzers that so many games include! All of which combines to mean that “family board game” time can be as stressful and painful as it can be fun.

I realized tonight that this kind of thing is exactly what is so difficult to explain to NT people about the cost of living life in a ND-hostile world – that the “everyday” things that they consider to be restorative and enjoyable experiences are actually designed in a way that is draining and exhausting for a ND person. That the ability to do these “social” things requires energy and capability to cope with an assault to your senses and cognitive processing. And that the more demands that are placed on a ND person – even when playing a game – the more worn down and unable to cope with everything the person will become.

So, yes, it took us more than a year to play our new board game. And, after all of that, we didn’t even finish it because, when we saw it becoming overwhelming, we called a timeout. It might take a whole year more before we try again, before we’re all again in a physical and mental place to take it on. But that’s OK. We will take the moments of joy we get from giving our family the time and understanding we all need to have our best possible experience. It might not be typical, but, then, neither are we.

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Thank you for taking the time to explain this and share your story. It helps others to understand.
Elisa Schmitz
"We will take the moments of joy we get from giving our family the time and understanding we all need to have our best possible experience. It might not be typical, but, then, neither are we." I love this, Carrie, thank you for sharing.
Ann Marie Patitucci
Carrie, Thanks for this. I know what it's like to think "while NT people may..." I appreciate you sharing your experience; I think it's important to help NT people understand what it's like to be ND and/or raise ND kids.
Julio Caro
Thanks For Sharing...

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