I recently started working for a nonprofit that serves the needs of individuals and families of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, working in their information and referral department. While a lot of the work I'm doing is systems navigation, I found out about a Dungeons and Dragons summer program, and I asked if I could be involved.
Flash to now, I've been running two D&D groups for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities for three weeks, and I've been learning a lot. Generally my work has focused on individuals with autism, but this group has a lot more diversity in their disabilities, and I've had to make a lot more accommodations to remain inclusive. The goal of this group is to create a fun, social experience for the players, as a lot of people with disabilities struggle with loneliness, and I strongly feel that meaningful recreation is not just a freedom, but should be seen as a basic human right. And thus far, based on the feedback I'm getting, I'm confident that my players are having fun together.
However, I have had to be very intentional in how I run my group. This is the first group I've run like this, but I've been very intentional in observing what is working and what isn't. I want to share what I've observed, so hopefully other people running similar groups can take this and run with it, as there is a huge need for groups that serve individuals with disabilities that aren't centered around teaching social skills. (This isn't to say that social skills groups are bad, there just needs to be something else for autistic people than social skills focused groups.)
As such, here are the lessons I've learned, in no particular order:
-Plain language applies not only to books, but DMing.
-If they're struggling to engage, provide two options, for example, "You see a goblin at the bar. Do you watch him to see what he orders, or go up and talk to him?"
-Visuals are your friend. I use Heroforge for NPC pics, and I have a document with all the images on it so I can screen share to it whenever I want to display what they're looking at/who they're talking to.
-Plan breaks. 45-65 minutes of game, 10 minute break seems to be best. 2 hour sessions are good.
-Sweet spot on players is 4-6. Having an extra facilitator playing a NPC can make it easier.
-Have their character sheet available so you can tell them what to roll immediately. I have all the character sheets open in tab groups so I can easily switch between them.
-Visuals on what dice to roll are helpful (i/e what a d8 is, etc.)
-Be fine with various levels of engagement. Some kids will barely engage, but they should still be included if they want to be there and aren't being disruptive. The point is inclusion, not forced participation.
-Set up safety tools and group expectations ahead of time. Standard practice, but still important.
-Warm up questions are great, and a fun way to give them a soap box.
-Make plot points very easy to follow. Don't be subtle or rely on checks to figure things out, be willing to say "This guy seems like he's suspicious" or "There's something way off about this guy, he's probably up to something." Think Disney level villainy, not Keyser Soze.
-It really, REALLY helps to have an existing relationship with the players so you can support their needs. My co-facilitators know most of the people in the groups, and email them frequently about how they're doing and if there's any needs.
-Ask for feedback, especially around accessibility. This has been the most useful, as they've been absolutely able to tell me what is and isn't working for them.
-There's a need for groups like this, that are focused on inclusivity and fun. I can tell that a lot of them see groups as being some type of therapy, so for them to be able to have a group that's just about friendship and fun is important.
-I am so lucky to be doing this group. Practicing gratitude to be able to run games like this is really, really important. GMing should be an act of service, and doing it for a community that is underserved is both a privilege and a joy.
Anyway, I hope you find these tips helpful. If you are running a group like this, please let me know and share any tips at rollforkindness on twitter!