Throughout the session he watched me warily. He laughed a bit at the funny stuff. He concentrated when the group was asked a question. He was very 'present' in the class. I asked him to participate in the role plays but he kindly, politely and firmly refused. Well the workshop is about abuse prevention and saying 'no' ... so I figured he passed.
When it was all over a few folks came up to speak with me, he hung back. The first guy said something that struck me funny, 'I don't know if you planned it that way but this was actually good.' I laughed and told him that I had planned the workshop and I had planned for it to be fun. 'Most classes, they don't plan this way,' he said leaving me wondering exactly what kind of teachers, what kind of classes, he has sat through.
In my book 'Do Be Do: How to teach and what to teach people with intellectual disabiliites' I point out that most people when they teach, slow down the flow of information, ... they are slow learners so teach them slow ... when in fact people with disabilities, when taught need the information to come quickly, they need a format that is engaging, they need interest up and attention engaged (kind of like the rest of us).
I was still chuckling over the 'don't know if you planned it tha way' remark when I noticed that everyone else was gone and the fellow who had paid attention but not participated was still there eyeing me. Now this had been an abuse prevention workshop, I was now preparing myself to hear something horrible. He crept towards me almost as if he was frightened of me. I didn't look up and smile to encourage him. I do not have a really welcoming face, at rest it looks angry, when I force a smile I look cannabilistic. It's best to let people approach without eyeing them.
Finally he was close enough to speak, "What you said about saying 'no'?" I looked up and said, "Saying no is important."
He nodded but said nothing else. I went back to putting my things away, give him time, give him time, give him time.
"You know another word you should teach about?" I glanced up, ready to hear.
"Yes, they don't let us say 'yes'."
I was taken aback, and asked, "What do you mean?"
"My girlfriend and I, we love each other, they won't let us say 'yes', we have to say 'no'."
My heart broke for this guy.
"It hurts bad when you can't say yes. You should teach about that too."
He glanced over towards the door of the classroom I was teaching in and began to edge his way towards the door. "You won't tell on me will you?" I assured him that I would not. I told him that I will begin working the word 'yes' into my training, I will begin writing about 'yes' and consulting about 'yes', but I would wait a few months so that no one would know it was him.
No one but me.
I still see his face, looking at me expectantly, holding me accountable.
I choose to begin today, with this blog, and this afternoon when I present with Manuela about abuse prevention - the point that 'no means no' has to be understood in agencies but that 'yes means yes' also has to be in policies to prevent agency abuse of the hearts of those in care.
A young man with sparkling green eyes had to courage to challenge me to change, to grow, will never know that I am now doing what I promised him that I would do.
He believed in me, so maybe he does.
(dedicated to one who lives in fear in hopes that one day he lives in love)