I have the most amazing friends on social media especially those who are involved in helping those with developmental disabilities; a part of the population that oftentimes don’t have their needs meet and in my personal opinion are treated poorly by people who don’t understand them or the obstacles they face; that is why this post my friend made on Facebook was so moving; as soon as I read it ;I knew I had to share it with my blog readers since I am so passionate about helping those with development disabilities. It is really is a beautiful post….
The other day my son and I were shopping for some back to school clothes for him. A very chatty sales associate stopped to ask if we needed any help. I politely replied “no” but noticed he was kind of lingering. He asked me a couple questions about my tattoos and I quickly noticed (from my own exposure/experience) that he was developmentally disabled. So, he kept asking questions and I kept answering them. We ended up discussing the fact that my son went to a school run by a mental health agency in our county and he expressed he worked with a similar organization in town that helped place people with disabilities with suitable jobs. He paused to help other people and I immediately noticed how other people were uncomfortable talking to him and really tried to avoid him. It made me really sad because he was so incredibly friendly and willing to share things about his life. Some of his questions may have felt intrusive to others but, I understood that he was merely trying to engage in conversation and give good customer service, so I indulged him. We looked at shirts longer than we needed to…him to my right with a beaming smile and my son to my left, crouched on the floor, semi hiding and whispering his answers to questions asked so I would respond for him and he didn’t have to make eye contact/talk with a stranger.
In that moment I realized just how beautiful neurodiversity is and how I was sandwiched in between two very obviously loving people with great curiosity, developmental disabilities and different ways of navigating public situations. Neither was fazed by the other’s behavior. I expressed to the man that my son and I had disabilities as well and that I was really happy for him that he found a job he liked and made him feel useful. Before we parted I shook his hand and thanked him for his help and made sure to tell him I thought the store was very lucky to have him as an employee and that I thought he was really good at his job. His face was beaming. I bumped into a manager on the way out and made sure to tell them how pleased we were with his kindness and help.
My point is…I notice a lot of times people shy away from those who they recognize as having intellectual or developmental disabilities. I understand that sometimes people simply may not know what to say. The trick is…you say whatever you would say to someone without a disability. You say hello and make small talk if you’re in the mood and you thank them for their help. I don’t know how many people take the time, even a few moments, to engage this man – from what I witnessed no other customers did. In all fairness my son and I do seem to magnetically attract people with varying disabilities which I always find interesting because none of us are wearing signs that scream, “We’re disabled!” I imagine it must be some type of subtle energy or openness that others pick up on. I feel blessed to have that. I feel good that perhaps we were a cheerful part of that man’s day. It doesn’t make us special or better than anyone else, just as having these varying disabilities don’t make us any less. It makes us human. It’s not that difficult in the least to simply treat people humanely.
Fear of the unknown shouldn’t stop us from reaching out or taking a few moments to engage with a stranger. You never know what beautiful things you may have in common.
Later that afternoon I had the pleasure of spending time with an amazing young woman with Down’s Syndrome and we had a great time in public as well…I noticed “the looks” and I purposely ignored them. She wasn’t looking for input from others so it didn’t matter and she is fiercely independent and self assured…which I absolutely LOVE seeing! My favorite part of that experience was when she asked me the lyrics to a song, I sang about 3 words, she turned and looked at me very seriously and said, “ok. That’s enough.” I laughed but explained I wasn’t laughing at her, it was her sheer honesty that made me really happy and I agreed with her that I did not have the best singing voice! 🙂
Be good to each other. Step outside your comfort zone