About spoons and spudgers(*): community repair for neurodivergents



(*) Spoons refer to Christine Miserandino’ spoon theory. Spudgers are flat plastic or metal tools essential to open most electronic devices (and apparently originating from late Middle English spuddle (“short knife”).

What was this session about

An exploration into how repair activities and community repair events may be well suited to many autistics and other neurodivergents and how to ensure that these events are welcoming for all neurodivergents.

The Restart Project has been proactive in encouraging inclusivity across genders, in particular with the Rosie the Restarter skill shares. Should we have similar or different effort for neurodivergents?

Session outline

Below are some possible items for discussion. Feel free to add to this list.

Community repair, well suited for neurodivergents?

  • Repair: a manual, intellectual and emotional activity

    • What is a repair? Investigative work, research, problem solving, working with hands, visual analysis, documenting…
    • Strong focus, flow and persistence are essential parts of problem solving. When repairing, it is common to ‘get in the zone’ or get in a ‘flow state’ (attention tunnel)
    • Opportunity for deep engagement with the devices. You ask them questions, they answer you. Challenging conversation? A kind of relationship or friendship (Pirsig). Personification: ‘attribution of human characteristics to non-human agents’. Personification more prevalent among autistics (White & Remmington)
    • The act of repairing can be as or more significant than the outcome of the repair. With each repair, one gains knowledge and experience
    • Emotional engagement. Successful repair is a joyful event. When something isn’t repairable it can be a 'small tragedy’, however one gains experience and knowledge even in these cases
    • Fixing is a positive activity
  • Community repair is more than just repairing

    • Opportunities for conversations on a shared theme with those bringing their items
    • Narrow shared topics of conversation facilitate relationships between people and are also occasions to gain confidence and self-esteem
    • Teaching repair skills can contribute to greater social cohesion and individual well-being
    • Repair events are sociable involving people who might otherwise feel isolated
    • When struggling to do things, repair events are occasions to do something, one can just get on with fixing
    • Limited commitment of one event at a time
    • Each event is time bound
    • The scale of repair events makes them much more approachable than, for example, big shops
  • A sense of social justice

    • Many in minorities such as neurodivergent tend to be highly committed to social justice
    • ‘In a disposable society, to repair is to rebel.’ (The Economist)
    • Repairing and teaching repair is doing something for the environment
    • Repair extends life of products
    • Teaching repair skills help Improve resilience

Identifying potential issues

  • Are repair events inclusive for everyone? Involving people who might otherwise feel isolated
  • Potential conflict about what is best for the majority vs. for the minority
    • Space. Tables and repairers close to each other to make the event look busy or spaced out for more personal space
    • Time. People waiting wanting repair to happen as quickly as possible vs. repairer fully engaged in one repair

Some recommendations (mostly for hosts):

  • Importance of the sensory environment, e.g., noise, lighting conditions
    • Advertising the venue features such as noise level, lighting so that fixers can decide whether it’s a venue they can work in
    • Arrange the tables to ensure that there’s a quieter corner, preferably without neon lighting
    • Ensure that fixers are in the space most suitable for them (possibly outdoor if suitable)
    • Think about what is best for the majority vs. for the minority, e.g., close to each other or more personal space
  • Time pressure
    • Make sure that fixers are ok, that they have a drink and take breaks - even if people are waiting
    • Give enough time to focus on each repair - even if it’s a busy event
  • Pair people so one can buffer issues for another
  • Ask fixers for their accessibility needs
  • When to accommodate/reject someone; if someone is competent to fix but can’t integrate with the team/organisation try to figure this early. Rejection can have dramatic effect on some; consider safeguarding issues
  • Organise debrief after events to find out what worked and what didn’t

A few links

About neurodiversity and autism

‘Neurodiversity is the diversity of human brains and minds – the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species.’ Nic Walker

‘Autism is a way of being. It is pervasive; it colors every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence.’ Jim Sinclair

About the facilitator(s)

Panda Mery

An almost too calm neurodivergent researcher, bricoleur, productive irritant and flâneur.

I have been volunteering with the Restart Project since a few months after it started. I am currently working as an autistic research assistent on a two-year project titled A society fit for autistics. I am also involved in several autistic initiatives including AutAngel and the development of a Hackney Autism Strategy.

You can find my profile on the Restart Project’s website and my full cv on my website.

My personal website is calm, almost too calm .

Ben Skidmore

I’m an electronic engineer with a background in all kinds of handy work from woodwork (guitar making) to sustainable energy (bicycle-powered disco anyone?). My passion for tinkering was inflamed very young after my mum gave me screwdrivers set, and I’ve developed into a chronic DIY-er. If you can fix, make or improve it yourself, I will try!

I’ve been coming to Restart Parties since 2012 and had lots of adventures on the way, meeting local groups such as transition towns and taking part in events at school, colleges and workplaces too. I’m currently a Volunteer Coordinator, helping organise our induction sessions for new Restarters, as well as skillshares and socials for volunteers.

Dave Lukes

I’ve been a volunteer Restarter for several years now.

I’m also one of the founders of Hackney Fixers : one of the organisations that have grown out of the good work that Restart is doing.

I mostly volunteer at events in East London, specifically Hackney, but I’ve been known to venture far & wide when the need arises and the bicycle (and my legs) are willing.

My repair skills are mostly self-taught, but I did a couple of years of a physics degree so I have a bit of science to help my understanding.

Other things? I’m an ardent cyclist and in my other life, I’m an “IT Infrastructure Team Lead”.

FixFest UK!

Please help document this session!

This is a wiki post, to edit it click on the ‘Edit’ button at the bottom of this post: Edit%20button . Feel free to make edits and add your own notes as well as document the session (e.g. writing about what happened in the session, what did you learn or find interesting, who did you talk to and did any actions come out of the conversation).

Welcome to Fixfest UK! Start here
Improving practices in community repair: make it inclusive

This is an epic write-up of the session to come! I look forward to participating.


Spoons? sorry can’t resist.


I need my spoons and spudger to participate in a repair event.

(If you’re not familiar with spoon theory, you may want to check out Christine Miserandino’s post about it which is linked from the bottom of the session’s description.)


Ok, I get it, thanks for sharing that.


I’ve added a few notes from the session to the wiki post at the top of this thread. I’ve also added a link to Jim Sinclair’s Cultural Commentary: Being Autistic Together which is a great paper about creating an autistic space.

If you attended please do add your notes too. If you didn’t attend and have some contributions do add them as well.


I’ll be running a somewhat related session, titled ‘About spoons and spudgers: community repair for autistics’, at thePARC Autistic Fringe Scotland at 3pm on 8th November 2018. Entrance to the Fringe is free so if you happen to be in Glasgow on that day and are interested I may see you there.

I’ve now updating the Wiki to reflect that presentation as well. I’ve substantially rejigged it and believe it now works well for both repairers & hosts as well as neurodivergent audiences.

Feel free to improve it further. @Repair_Cafe_Glasgow anything you remember from the Glasgow session that I missed in my edits?