Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Boy In The Tunnel: Support

The scream was sudden and piercing.

We had come from doing laps of the north part of the mall and were now heading over to the movie theatre to catch a film. To do this we needed to go through the tunnel and, as always happens, my shoulder began to tense at the idea of the long ramps I needed to negotiate. Then, the scream. My eyes shot to the source of the sound. A young boy, with autism, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, was screaming and wildly punching at his head. Beside him stood, as they were stopped still at the moment, a young man in his early twenties. The sound, it's immediacy and urgency, had stopped everyone in their tracks. Everyone staring.

I did not stare.

I don't stare at people who are in distress. I figure it's a moment where what they need from me is privacy and space. I backed my chair up. They were at the top of the far ramp and would need to be able to get by me in my chair. I waited.

Not staring does not mean not seeing.

Only moments later, when on the other side and turning a corner I had to negotiate around a woman who, after seeing me, dropped her eyes, refused to look at where her path was taking her and where mine was taking me. Just refused to look up at me or the space around herself. Averting one's gaze is not the same as not staring.

So what I noticed was the fellow who was supporting the young man was a highly skilled and clearly compassionate guy. There were several things that he did that were of note:

He wasn't even slightly embarrassed by the situation. I don't know what he was feeling inside but to all the world and for all the world he just calmly did what needed to be done to keep the young man safe. This is at odds with how I've seen many of these situations with the staff panicking and becoming flustered and embarrassed and, sometimes, looking for pity (not support) from those around them. Staff can forget sometimes that, in these situations, they are supporting an individual and teaching the public how to respond in that moment. This guy just radiated respect for the young boy who was having a really rough go.

His voice, when speaking quietly, to the young boy, was soft and showed no sign of strain. Whatever he was saying, must have been helpful because the young boy, at one point looked to him, and paused to listen to him, and then struggled to regain control. The scream began to drop in pitch and in volume. There wasn't a trace of anger in the staff's voice. There were no commands being given.

His attitude, though, was the big deal. Attitude can be seen. This staff, he communicated simply that they were there, they had a right to be there, and that what was going on didn't change that. Again, this is at odds with how I've seen this handled by others. Anger and frustration and embarrassment combine to communicate exclusionary messages to everyone around, messages that suggest that behaviours eliminate citizenry.  Not this guy, he was a direct support professional, who managed to support an individual while supporting, by how he did what he did, the rights of that kid to be where he was and go through what he was going through.

Once I had space to move ahead, I put my hands to the wheels on my chair and a woman coming up the stairs that are beside the ramp, said ... (part two tomorrow)

3 comments:

Unknown said...

I have a niece with autism..it was so hard to see her struggle. For several years, her parents would (to family) attribute her behavior to her "quirky" personality....and did not seem to notice the impact on their younger daughter, at all. The marriage broke up when my niece was 8, about 3 years later her mom used the word 'autistic' in reference to her daughter's classmates. I wish they had been able to work with staff such as the man you describe, Dave - what a difference it would have made in my niece's life, her family, and the extended family.
My niece does seem to be doing better, and one of her older cousins now lives near my sister and the girls, so at least there is some extended family connection.
clairesmum

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

How beautiful when it is most matter-of-fact. Calm and normal.

Thanks for sharing what you observed - it is good to be aware of competence in a profession.

Sherry-Lynn K said...

This reminded me of a time when I first (25+ years ago) began working with adults with developmental delays. I was working with a young lady with sever autism and intellectual delays who had recently been placed on an elimination diet by her doctor (basically dropped down to 4 low-allergen foods she was permitted by the Dr. to eat while they attempted to ascertain what she was reacting to). She did not have the ability to understand why she was suddenly unable to eat her favourite foods and was pretty unhappy with the situation and really wanted "real" food. We went out to purchase a couple of things that she needed, at a mall I'd never been in. We rounded a corner and walked smack dab into the smell of cinnamon buns! She became very distressed, began vocalizing VERY loudly and trying to pull me to the Cinnabon store. I gently told her how sorry I was but that we could not go there...and her agitation increased. A few people simply stopped and stared but, I'm happy to say, MOST people who saw what was going on approached us asked if there was anything they could do for us. Did we need any assistance? Was there anyone they could call? People who witnessed her agitation were overwhelmingly kind and, for all that it was a difficult situation for both of us, the kindness of strangers helped us both. :)