Sunday, September 15, 2013

Personal Space

I had a refreshingly positive experience in Wawa the other day. Julian was inline to pay for his chips and soda and I stood off to the side- present enough to step in if he misses a step (like actually forgetting to hand money to the cashier before walking away with the scanned items), but out of the way enough for him to not be able to rely on me giving him cues.
Next inline was a little girl with her dad behind her. She did what all little kids do: twirl and generally not have any clue as to what's transpiring around them.
Julian began to struggle as he could not focus on the denomination of dollars in his wallet. This wasn't the little girls fault. Checkout lines have always been a toughie. Just imagine you can't focus. That's as simple as it gets. Your brain is made in a way that it is constantly on overload processing information. You hear every conversation, see every detail and its all amplified to the power of ten. Now, put that version of yourself in a place where you have something you want in your hands. You have to stand in a line and wait for it to actually become yours though you can't completely understand why. There are a million people talking and darting around. There's music playing overhead and everywhere you look there's a sign, an ad, shiny displays with moving parts, bells and whistles. The person in front of you has a shrill voice. The person behind you has a kid that's twirling around and keeps bumping into your calf. You hate to be touched. The song just changed. The line just moved. Someone knocked over a bag of potato chips. So there aren't five bags anymore. There are four. You hate the number four. Is it your turn yet? You start listing in your mind all the albums the singer of the overhead song ever released and their correlating release dates. Someone three people behind in line just sneezed. That always throws you off. Start the list over again.
This is a glimpse into Julian's world.
Finally, it was his turn and he got hung up on the money exchange. I stepped in as the cashier was saying numbers and he blindly fished around his wallet and guessed at what she could want even though he can actually count and figure it out. He was so far into his own world I had to do an uncommon amount of intervening.
Most of the time people in line sympathize with his struggle and wait patiently and those that don't, I mentally dare to make a remark. "Your fuckin cheese puffs and hoagie can wait one minute for my friend here to figure this out."

As Julian finished and moved aside, the gentleman with his twirling kid pulled her a little closer, but not out of fear of the six foot two inch giant. The man said to me, "She was in his personal space.", In a kind way.
I was elated to hear a stranger honestly consider Julian's needs (or possibly anyone's) when out in the community and in a way that was not patronizing or diminishing. People are generally kind to him, but this guy "got it". I thanked him and explained what a rare treat it was to find someone so perceptive to those around him.

So much of our work in the intellectually disabled community revolves around helping the individual understand the world around them and what is expected of them. Yet, it truly goes both ways. This is a 50/50 deal. In as much as we teach the individuals we work with we must always teach the community to be mindful of their fellow man. People fear what they do not understand and sadly fear is what I see in many people. It has gotten better though, as more integration has occurred in schools, more services have been provided and as these individuals are seen as fixtures of the community and the community has been educated. Stigmas are being torn down, but we are in the infant stages of progress. The community is still learning to not look with pity, but with equality. We move forward.

- Posted using BlogPress from my device for distraction and ironic social detachment.

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