A PSA about disabilities

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

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When God calls us

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I work retail and therefore it a rarity that I get a Sunday off; luckily today I am not working and was able to attend church with my family. I think church is important but at the same time I feel God is everywhere and I don’t need to go to church in order to follow his word. But today being at church  was especially important; the church I attended is very active in helping the community and there is a program that helps both children and adults with disabilities. I talk a lot about getting into the disability field on my blog; it is something I am very passionate about; I prayed for God to give me the opportunity to help with those who have disabilities in any way I could and this is my chance. After the service I talked to one of the volunteers and gave him my contact information; I hope to be able to part of this very special ministry that helps the disabled.  I think God gives us all gifts and I feel like his gift for me is sensitivity towards others and a desire to help people in need; I have gone most of my life not using my gift but it is better late than never. I feel this is God’s calling for me. I find when I listen to God my life changes in miraculous ways for the better.  When you volunteer and be of service to others; you not only help others but you help yourself as well. I used to be in 12 steps and the one thing people would say to me is to get out of self centered thinking is to help another person. I am no longer in 12 steps but I did take that concept to heart. When you focus on ourselves we don’t do anyone any good.  Helping others helps us grow as people and become closer to God and that is where I want to be at this point in my life.

I also feel God is calling me in other ways.  I was driving home from church and thinking about visiting my friend and reading her daughter’s writings who is about 16. I thought about the poetry reading I went to where the best poem was read by teens; young people who spoke from their heart and had a lot to say. I think of myself at that time; I was a troubled teen. I acted out; got kick out of school, had lost my brother and was having a lot of issues. Regardless of circumstances it is really tough to be a teenager these days; they have a lot of feelings they can’t express; they feel unheard; and think they oftentimes feel alone ( even though they aren’t).  A part of me would in some way help young people; maybe teach them ways to cope.  I am not sure how I would achieve this or if it will ever happen but I think I have a lot to offer; a lot of experience given how I struggled at their age.  To me nothing happens by accident and I was at my friend’s house, at church today and at the poetry reading for a reason; there was a message I supposed to be hearing.

When I think about how my life has taken such a different trajectory in such a positive direction is a miracle and it can’t be explained in any other way except that God is working in my life. And when I talk about God; I don’t talk about religious doctrine or even church; I am not here to point the finger, judge, evangelize, convert, or stand on a soap box and preach morality. People are free to behave and say whatever they want; for me God is more about have compassion for others; learning to forgive; and that God put us on this Earth to help others because that is what gives him joy. So I feel blessed and will continue to walk down this path that God has layed out for me; he has yet to steer me wrong.

Dave

Why do we judge the disabled so harshly

There is an internet figure or should I say meme based on a man named Chris Chan who has autism; he has been cyber bullied for years; the cruelness is beyond comprehension.  This man has been trolled by hundreds of people over the course of 10 years. . There are documentaries on this guy, countless memes, thousands of videos mocking this guy; getting him to do disgusting things and leaking it to the internet; there is whole wiki site based on him and of course its in a mocking tone; I don’t even know why I even look at it. A part of me is scared by this since I am on the autism spectrum; although I can work, maintain friendships, attend college;  I struggle socially; I think to myself this could be me. They are laughing at people like me.

I looked at the page today and one section was about Chris’s ego and how he is enabled and has a sense of entitlement. Something I read really bothered me. They said no one over 30 should live with their parents regardless of disability; I thought that was harsh, incredibly judgmental and ignorant about the economic system in which we live. If these ignorant fools bothered to read the facts they’d realize that the employment rate for the disabled ( autism included) is about 10% ;about twice the amount for non disabled people.  Jobs are scarce for the disabled and all are low paying. No one disabled or otherwise could survive on these wages; it isn’t fair; in fact its downright cruel. A living wage is the least they can do for the disabled ;but that will never happen at least in this country. I for one live my parents and it isn’t because I enjoy their company; I have no choice. Not only do I have emotional issues along with being on the spectrum; I suffer from physical issues as well. It’s so bad that I cant stand in the same place for more than 15 minutes without running to the bathroom; it disrupts my whole life; so independence is something that seems out of reach. I am always conscious that there is a segment of society that is judging me ( and others like me) because I still with my parents; probably the same people who call welfare handouts. Here’s the thing: I love my parents (although it can be tense at times) but I would give anything to be on my own. I pay most of my bills aside from the medical portion but there are just so many obstacles and you know no matter how hard you try you can’t survive because someone who does have wealth and power won’t let you because he doesn’t want to give a small part of what he has; so you can have your basic needs met.

It just saddens me that we judge people when they don’t know their circumstances. Maybe Chris ( its Christine now sorry)is low on the spectrum and can’t possibly hold down a job. Maybe she cant live on her own; maintain an apartment, cook for herself, pay bills or manage her health. I mean who are we to judge someone we don’t know. There is so much stigma of the disabled particular those with mental and emotional issues; we have ridiculous high standards for them that maybe they can never achieve. The average person may say  ” Hey, I work 2 jobs; 60 hrs a week; why can’t they”. People speak out of ignorance and cruelty and its obvious they never suffered in life and have had all the breaks in life. The rest of us struggle to survive; on our feet 8 hours a day         ( when its physically difficult) living paycheck to paycheck and we’ll still can’t achieve independence. If you sense an angry tone; you are right; I am angry. The disabled deserve better; they deserve to work and live independently like everyone else; I see it as a human right. It hurts to see another human being trolled by millions ( yes millions of people) Its despicable and that is all I have left to say.  That is it for my blog but I will leave you with this. As the bible states Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judgeye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you – Matthews 7:2.  Remember it

Dave

 

Cyber bullying and Autism

I just learned about a whole internet meme involving a community of trolls ( hundreds of them) simultaneously cyber bullying an Autistic man; forcing him to humiliate himself in various ways; including having women pretend to be interested and upload phone calls and text messages etc. They made YouTube videos taunting him; goading to act in more inappropriate ways; there are countless videos and a few documentaries based on all his uploads; the man is obviously Autistic and mentions it quite a bit; so it’s not a secret. I want to help those who have Autism and this breaks my heart. So when we talk about Autism; we forget the dangers and pitfalls that Autistic face when they use social media. We think everyone is sensitive when in reality there is a whole other side who could give a shit about anyone’s feelings including those who are disabled. And they won’t quit because they love to see their reaction. Even if that person takes their life; the bullying won’t end. I have a very angry reaction to people like that and I feel for anyone that is their victim. It a sad cold world out there and its up to people who understand and care about the disabled to protect them from cold hearted soulless bullies that would torment someone who isn’t aware of how their behavior can have negative consequences. Just watching clips of this man made really upset. I could on but I won’t.

Treating the disabled with Respect

I want to preface this blog by saying I am not currently working in the disability field; I don’t have a degree; I’m not an author, a medical professional; I myself have disabilities but have never been a caretaker.  But I am in school learning about developmental disabilities and I am passionate about those who have challenges and struggles; I want to help.  I hope to get my degree very soon and find a job in the helping field; where I can make a difference in the lives of the disabled. Right now I am an internship where supporter workers bring their clients; we have classes, activities, and a lot of the time they sit around and play board games or arts and crafts; they have a lot of fun; it doesn’t always feel productive though and find myself getting frustrated at those working for the agency; never with the clients.  I found immediately that I have knack for relating to the clients; I joke with them; I help with classes and just enjoy their company; we are always happy to see each other.   I am keenly aware of my tone of voice and how I come across to them.  I try really hard to relate to them on their level and talk to them like I would anyone else; obviously you set boundaries; but for the most part I treat them no differently than the staff; which may or may not be a problem. But I think it’s important to treat the disabled as you would want to be treated; because I have disabilities I can sense when someone is talking down to me; they may speak slower because they think I can’t understand; what they don’t realize is my hearing isn’t great.  They may give me a funny look while they are walking by me. Some I think have mistaken me for a client which to be honest is pretty insulting; maybe I shouldn’t be insulted but it’s how I feel. And a lot of times people are just rude and dismissive; not just towards me but to another worker who has disabilities as well. I can tell that they talk down to her; or get annoyed with her easily; and she just takes it in stride but it upsets me. I was listening to a supporter worker with her client; asking the same question in a voice that you would talk to a toddle in and I all of sudden figured out the word I was thinking of : patronizing.  It isn’t rudeness per see but a condescending attitude that these workers have; as if the clients are children; their children.  I hear workers bark orders sometimes; SIT DOWN!!  WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO TODAY, COME ON!!” and they repeat they same question over and over. What I love the most is that when a client may say or talk about something that the worker doesn’t understand ( it seems that is a lot that the workers don’t understand) they always reply in this patronizing tone; ooook and then walk away.  Damn, does that shit get on my nerves.  For me personally, I try to probe. What does the client mean by that?  If he is talking about a movie or a song I don’t understand; I actually google so I can have an idea of what they are saying. I try to meet  themon their level. They aren’t kids; they are grown ass adults and I treat them as such. Hell, I’ve even gotten the oook response at times I just shake my head at their ignorance.   I know what it’s liked to be talked down and I would never do that to anyone else. Sometimes I wish only disabled people worked in this field because they seem to be the only ones who truly understand; they can reach out to this community without feeling superior.   I really feel I can do this and frankly I feel it’s unfair that these people have these jobs when they don’t how to properly communication with those who have developmental disabilities.  I am glad that I am seeing this; I know exactly what not to do when I am in this field; so I guess I’m grateful for that

When children are diagnosed with Autism

I connect with a lot of people on social media who are caring for a child with Autism; I also am studying the developmental disability field; so I am highly aware of the issues and challenges that those who have autism and their caretakers face. So I was scrolling through my newsfeed and came across a friend who was describing her son’s reaction to being diagnosed with Autism.  I felt amazed by hearing her story and how she cares for her son who happens to have Autism. I asked if I could share this story on my blog and she kindly said it wasn’t a problem; I always try to be sensitive and protect people’s anonymity. What is also interesting to note that I happened to be at my internship; an agency that helps those that have Autism among other disabilities; I thought it was fitting I would be reading it at that very moment.  Anyways here is what she wrote:

On the drive to horse therapy  **** and I were discussing autism and how some kids can feel uncomfortable when they realize they have it and that it’s often accompanied with anxiety and sensory issues. He responded, “I didn’t feel uncomfortable when you told me I had autism and an anxiety disorder. I guess autism is kind of a package deal huh mom? You buy the autism and get the anxiety and sensory issues for free. You know, three for the price of one?” This boy makes me smile so much, his outlook, his acceptance of himself and other children. I reached into the back seat and held his hand and told him what a lucky mom I am to have him as my child  I adore his perspective!

Update: Thoughts on working with the disabled

As many of you know I am in an internship where I work with those who have developmental disabilities.   The clients come in with varying degrees of disabilities and challenges; some are verbal; can express their needs; highly social; talkative and many you would never know they had difficulties until you spent a lot of time with them. Others have disabilities that are far more obvious; those that are non verbal ( unless they can sign) cannot express themselves or get a lot of their needs meet; they sit in silence; complete dependent on their support worker.  You learn to not take it personally when someone does not say hi back and you rely more on non-verbal cues such as gestures and eye contact ( or lack thereof)  In this internship we have many classes that relate to job searches, self advocacy, fitness, arts and crafts and music; it’s a lot of fun helping these clients in those classes.  Yesterday we had a music class where the clients could sing or play instruments; they really seemed to enjoy it; I’ve been there about 3 times. There is one girl there who always has an upset look on her face and I have never heard her speak or made any effort to communicate with anyone; I figured she was non-verbal.  But yesterday something miraculous happened; she got up to the piano; starting banging on the keys and then she sang her heart out; I was floored. It was like she had come out of her shell and I could see a big smile on her face. I turned to the person next to me and said ” This is first time I have ever seen her speak” and the other person said she had never seen that either.  And once she started singing; she didn’t stop. It’s like she had all these bottled up energy and had this need to get it out. I then overheard her coach tell someone else that she and her family was asked to leave the church service because she was being too disruptive; that broke my heart; that the church couldn’t find a way to accommodate her at church. She has a right to worship God with her family; It upsets me to think how few churches try to meet the needs of the developmentally disabled in regards to church service.  We are all God’s children and I think God has a very special love for those who are disabled; those like the girl who was singing at the piano.   We happened to be at a church in this class and I started to tear up because we were singing “Jesus loves me”  And I thought all of those clients there and how God loves them so much; blessing them with so many supportive people and a safe place to live and work; out of institutions and treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.  It really has affected me and I feel very emotional; it is rare for me to tear up but lately it has been happening; particularly when I think of God’s love for me and all of his children.  I may be struggling but what those clients don’t realize is that by working with them; they are helping me. I shift the focus from myself onto another person when I am at the internship. For the first time in my life I have a purpose; to help others especially the developmentally disabled. This is God’s plan for me and I have faith God will place me somewhere where I can be of help and make a difference in someone’s life.

Thanks for listening,

Dave

Working with the disabled

It’s Autism awareness month and I wanted to share my experience working with those who have developmental disabilities. All my life I have been passionate about helping the disabled; it’s a population I have always enjoyed being around. In fact some of the nicest; least non-judgmental people I have known have been disabled in one sense or another. It doesn’t take much to be their friend; you just need to be kind and understanding and have to ability to talk to them on their level. I think that because I have disabilities myself and was in special needs classes for most of my schooling; I am more sensitive about it because I see myself as part of that community.  Like a lot of disabled people I had trouble in social settings; making friends and building relationships. I also had difficulties finding and maintaining work and even more problems getting the understanding of my supervisors and co-workers.  Just getting through the work day was a struggle; because I’d run to the bathroom every 5 minutes ( I have physical issues as well) or lose my cool at inappropriate times.  It felt like I had to work 3 times as hard and I still wasn’t as good as the person working alongside me; it was frustrating to the point where I had a breakdown and had no choice but to leave work and was unemployed for several years; feeling hopeless.  One day a thought occurred to me that maybe I should go to school and finish my degree but I had no idea what I wanted to do. I remembered a friend of mine worked with people who had disabilities and I thought to myself: Hey I can do that.  I looked through the program catalog and found a developmental disabilities degree program and before you know it; I was signed up and headed to class. I remember being really nervous because I kept thinking that I am disabled myself; how can I help others who are disabled if I am struggling so much? I soon found out I loved the classes and did exceptionally well because I was so passionate about this field.  I may not have been able to express myself in the class the way I wanted to; but I shone through my writing; the papers I wrote about developmental disabilities. I found a few teachers and counselors who believed in me and encouraged me to continue. After a few years and a lot of apprehension; I started my internship at an agency that serves the needs of the developmentally disabled in our community; I was really nervous.  I am actually on my second round of internship at the same agency.  To be honest; getting along with my supervisor and some of the other workers can be challenging. I find some of them to be rude and not willing to help me or guide me; I feel left on my own.  But what I do take comfort is the fact that I love working with the clients. I love to see them laugh and the smiles they give when they see me. That is my skill; the ability to connect with them maybe in a way that other workers can’t. I don’t bark orders at them and I speak to them at their own level; I never talk to   the client as if I am above them.  I try to be their friend and maybe that isn’t my role but I don’t know how to be anything but myself.   Yesterday I saw a client who has down syndrome who I hadn’t see since I was last there ( about 2 years)  He ran up to me gave me a high five; and said “DAVID!! I can’t believe it; you’re here; where you been? I missed you, man”. That brightened my whole day and that’s the reason I show up; to make a difference.  So when did I feel dismissed or not understood by staff I can take comfort in the fact that I care deeply about the clients and that my kindness is my gift. I know God placed me here for a reason and he doesn’t want to me to give up on my dreams.  It may be tough but I will continue my education so I can get a job in this field; I am determined.

Thanks for listening,Dave.

Short blog about mental illness and violence

When hearing these gun debates, I can’t help but be saddned that they paint everyone who suffers from mental illness as a dangerous person. Some who are mentally ill are dangerous but certainly not all. The stigma about mental illness in this country is so strong and I only hope people in the coming years can educate themselves instead of making sweeping ignorant generalizations about millions of people; most whom suffer silently but would never hurt anyone. Something to think about…..

Hidden disabilities

It seems that in order for a disabled person to garner empathy and understanding, the disability needs to clearly visible. As someone who has a numerous health problems which I consider a disability I suffered in silence since I was a teenager. Constant pain and discomfort that was dismissed by others because they couldnt see how sick I was and how i couldnt even leave the house, work or sit for more than 15 minutes without getting up. While others lived their lives i was stuck at home because i had no choice. Besides my family, no one cared. Some wondered why i looked angry, id say i was sick and they had that look like they could give a ____. I still am dealing with these issues and often times i feel completely alone even though i know im not. So when we talk about the disabled, we need to include hidden disabilites in the conversation; the one that cause just as much distress but cant be seen. Sorry for the rant but i had to get this off my chest