I've thought about publishing this story for a couple of weeks. I worried that it might offend but then thought - hey, seriously, this was a great moment and a terrific memory for me. So, all speed ahead.
I was doing an abuse prevention class for people with disabilities and one of the fellows there was an energetic and outgoing and assertive man with Down Syndrome. He added an enormous amount of energy to the workshop and he had me laughing several times. I know that some will read this as a stereotypical representation of people with Down Syndrome and I don't mean that - besides he was an assertive outgoing MAN who had Down Syndrome. I liked him.
We did a couple of role plays and it became immediately obvious that he ha no problem at all with being clear about his boundaries, using his voice with effectiveness and demonstrating incredible social skills. It's a times like these I think to myself "man, who the hell parented you, whoever they were they did a helluva job."
I think I need to be clear that I don't reserve these thoughts for people with disabilities. There is a woman at my bank who is smart, funny, engaging, helpful and has never treated me with any kind of patronisation or stigmatisation. She's kind with everyone. She's just an extremely lovely person. I thought, "wow, who the hell parented you, whoever they were they did a helluva job."
Anyways, afterwards I spoke with him and told him that I'd loved teaching him but that in fact he didn't need much teaching. I asked him how he developed such a strong voice and such clear boundaries. He said, without thinking, "My mom." I waited for him to continue but he just started laughing. Then, he said, "You know what she taught me?"
"She told me that I was born with a hole in my heart, they stitched that up. She told me that I also had a hole in my face, that they didn't stitch up, and I was to use it if people treated me badly."
I laughed and laughed. Good for her. Good for him. He has a sense of humour about his disability AND has picked up strong messages about being his own first line of defence. Awesome.
I meet so many people with disabilities who have had 'the hole in their face stitched up' ... who don't know how to complain, how to be assertive, how to defend themselves or how to speak for themselves.
Not this guy.
Disability doesn't mean subservience or compliance to the mastery of others - people who are raised with voice have voice, people who are raised with pride have pride. I can't imagine what life this guy is going to live, but I do know, that it will be on his own terms and his voice will have to be considered because ... of course ... the hole in his face hasn't been stitched up.