Sunday, December 08, 2013


I didn't know.

I couldn't tell.

It made my morning.

We had gone down to the breakfast room of the hotel we were staying in. Joe had done reconnaissance and had come back reporting that there was no one there! Well, it was a snowy Saturday morning, maybe people were sleeping in. I had made the toast, gathered my food, and helped Joe bring the odds and sods to the table. We were seated such that I was facing away from the small buffet that was provided as part of the cost of the room.

I heard them arrive and turned to see a young father, who looked as if he were in the military, usher in two children. I caught sight of the girl, about 9 but only heard the boy who Joe told me later was probably about 6. It was quite the production, them getting their breakfasts. They worked as a team. Dad was amazing, he guided them but did not command them. Both kids wanted waffles and he helped each of them use the machine after telling them rule number 'uno' was DON'T TOUCH THE WAFFLE IRON. Then first the girl, then the boy, made a waffle. He supervised, and joked with them. Sister asked brother to get her something from the far side of the buffet, he did, she thanked him. He asked her to reach something out of his reach, she did, he thanked her. These were great kids. This was a great dad.

Once they had their food prepared, each child carried their own plate and he carried a plate full of food for two. They weren't eating in the breakfast area but going back to their room. It was then, when they passed us, coming into view, that I saw the boy turn and say something to his dad that I noticed that the little boy had Down Syndrome.

I didn't know.

I couldn't tell.

There was nothing in the manner of his sister or in the tone of his father's voice that gave a clue to the fact that he had a disability of any kind. Throughout their time getting stuff, and it took time, they chatted and laughed and supported each other equally. Equally.

When I'm at an event with people with disabilities and their care providers, I can almost always tell, when a care provider is speaking, if they are speaking to a co-worker or a person in their care. Almost always. This is true both for parents and paid workers. Now, true, I work with adults, and true, those adults grew up in different times - but still - and I mean this - this was a remarkable experience.

I don't work with children with intellectual disabilities. I hope what I'm describing is the common experience of children growing up now. I hope that they are learning the lessons of respect from the get go. I hope something more though. I believe that the most important place for integration and inclusion is in the family. It's kids, like the one making waffles, who may well one day be the one. The one who leads a movement towards a society that is as inclusive as the family he grew up in.


Jayne Wales said...

I think times are changing. That can be something we can all be glad about. I was speaking to a young mum last week who said that one lady who had just had a baby was introduced to a family of a much older child who had some other problems. She was working hard to help families from day 1 learn that it was not as terrible as they perhaps imagined. Needless to say her little girl was one of the sweetest little girls you want to meet. Everyone just melted when she put her arms out to be picked up. She put her little hand on me and said love! Oh my goodness.
Her Mum and Dad loved her so much and it showed.

Just Heidi said...

What a wonderful interaction to observe and I do hope communities/society continues to see more and more of this.

I work as a front line support worker with adults affected primarily by an Intellectual Disability and I have made some interesting observations during my career. We provide support to individuals from 17 years of age up to the age of 65. I find that the older members of our agency (aged 30-65)are far more independent/self reliant than the younger members, (aged 17-approx. 30).
In my observations of younger members transitioning into our agency- with the support of an Educational Assistant from their school. I see alot of them talking to the individuals they support as though they were children vs. young adults. I see them doing alot for the individual vs. supporting them as they do it themselves. This kind of 'support' leads to a sort of learned helplessness and does nothing to encourage growth and development of an individual's skills. It is not only support workers I have observed doing this- it is also families and caregivers- who are well intentioned.

I am also the blessed parent of a child affected by disability. She is talked to as I would talk to any child her age. She has the same expectations as her peers:to be respectful with herself, her belongings and others and their belongings, to try 'her' best and if she needs support to ask for it. If a 'negative behaviour' arises we recognize that her disability usually explains it- but it doesn't excuse it...

I recall a couple of years ago, when I was dropping our daughter off to school in the playground area. She ran from our car, into the playground and flung her school bag onto the ground. I followed her onto the playground and asked her to pick up her school bag and place it gently on the table with the other school bags. A teacher, working playgorund supervision quickly approached me and said..."You should be happy that she can throw her school bag"- to which I responded... "You should be happy that I care enough to teach her how to respect her belongings." Attitudes like the one displayed by this particular teacher do nothing to develop and enhance our children's abilities...

Hats off to that Dad! His son will go far in life with the support and expectations his Dad has for both his children. :)

Tamara said...

I wonder. I remember a man I "met" on an online board about Down syndrome had a woman with DS who lived with his family. It was some kind of program in Canada where the family opened their home and received money. It gave the person with the disability a place to live other than an institution or group home, I guess.

Anyway, he complained about the things she did - a lot. One of the things he complained about was that she wouldn't do things he knew she was capable of doing.

He always - always - blamed her parents. Now, I could make Shawen do something himself every day of his life, but if he were in a new situation with people who didn't know any better, then I absolutely know he would see if he could get someone else to do it for him.

The people you have seen as adults could have very well had parents who treated them like they treated everyone else in their family. I don't believe that always transitions to interactions in other situations.

When my son was born, a lot of the parents of other children his age would say that things are changing - like we were doing so much more for our kids that parents who came before. But, as I learned what parents who came before had also done, I realized that was a crock.

Now, I hear parents of younger children talk about how things are so different now, yet they're not doing anything we didn't do - well, maybe other than some new fad that promises to increase their IQ.

Of course, things change over the years; although, they don't always improve. But, from the time the first parents started saying - no, you're not putting my baby in an institution. I'm taking him/her home. I think there have been good parents who treat their children with respect and as they treat their other children.

Pat Voorhies said...

I just wanted to tell you about my son. He is 33 and has Down syndrome. He worked for 13 years as a dishwasher at Chili's. A new manager came in and was obviously uncomfortable working with someone with DS. He cut his hours to two a week. My son left and found another job at Olive Garden. He started as a dishwasher but the management there so appreciated his personality they decided he needed to work with the public. He just finished his third day there serving bread, salads, water and drinks to customers. He also seats customers. He has had nothing but positive reactions from both staff and customers! I am so proud of him! I just had to let you know.

Belinda Burston said...

Dear Pat, I'm so glad for your son! I'm glad that the sad event that happened first turned out to be a stepping stone to a better future. So glad he's being appreciated for who he is--and I bet he'll be good for business!

Anonymous said...

Really, Pat--congratulations to your son, who obviously has excellent public relations skills! I'm glad the Olive Garden management recognized those skills and had the good sense to capitalize on them.