"I'd like to meet your son," I asked.
"But you won't get anything out of him," she said.
"Nevertheless, I'd like to meet with him anyways," I insisted.
She had brought her son to an intake meeting and waited with him in the reception area until we were ready. We could hear him making sounds and moving around. We could hear mother, voice desperate, trying to get him to sit quietly. When we met with mom he waited in the lobby with the assistance of another staff. She spoke quickly, answering our questions with efficiency. She'd done this before. This was an intake meeting and she wanted to impress us with her son's needs and the stress he presented to the family.
Then, done, I wanted to meet him, alone.
She almost told me that he couldn't manage it, but stopped herself after protesting that it was pointless, and called him to the room.
He took a seat, she took a worried look at him and left.
Communication is not a skill he has in great abundance. He only says a word or two and makes vague gestures. I drew a couple of pictures but could not get him to attend to the pictures enough to point to either one of them although he'd dutifully place his hand on the page. He sat quietly as I talked to him, inattentive to my words but unworried by being alone in a room with two strangers (myself and the agency staff). After a few minutes trying we called mom back to the room.
I told her that she was right, he didn't communicate much to us.
But I didn't feel like it was a failure and I wanted her to understand that.
It was still important for us to meet him on his own.
She nodded and said, "No one has ever wanted to try to talk with him alone before. I didn't know what to think. But thank you for trying."
How do people serve those they don't meet? He may not have said anything to me. He may not have pointed to a single picture. But I learned about him.
I learned he does not suffer extreme anxiety when separated from his mother.
I learned that he has enough autonomy to exist on his own.
I learned that he did not have a fear of strangers.
I learned that he could control his anger and aggression in strange new circumstances.
I learned that he could understand the request to point even if he didn't follow the request to look.
I learned that he could engage in eye contact when asked, and that he smiled appropriately at little jokes.
I learned that there was someone in there, behind the pretty massive disability.
That was worth a few minutes of my time.