Tuesday, August 28, 2007


We stared at each other with disbelief.

"I think she has a better vocabulary than I do," said my co-therapist.

We were doing a day of meeting people who had been referred for service and as such there had been a line up in the waiting room all day. We tried really hard to stay on schedule and had managed pretty well. But the interview we had just done had run over a bit. We had met someone extraordinary.

She had Down Syndrome and a history of making up stories that ended in police involvement and investigations. It was serious stuff and she was a serious person. She had sat in the waiting room reading "O" the magazine put out by Oprah. We had been told that she was very, very, very, bright and that she read voraciously and was addicted to Dr. Phil. She came in with a sense of the importance of the meeting and a complete understanding of her own behaviour.

Did she know that what she was doing was wrong?


How did she feel about the resulting furor and mess created by her telling tales?


With one word answers it was difficult to see the woman we had been told about. Very bright, very intuitive, very alert and aware. I took a shot.

"Is it attention that you want?"

"Noooo," she said drawing out the word so she could think, "not attention exactly."

"What exactly, then?"

"I think, affirmation."

"Affirmation, you mean like love?"

"Love," she began, "and affirmation aren't the same thing. You asked me about attention. I get a lot of attention, I'm very involved in the community. I get a lot of love too, from my family in particular. I think what need is affirmation."

"Affirmation?" we were both a little thrown by what she had said.

"Yes, affirmation," she said and raised her hands and lowered them to demonstrate a stream pouring down onto and into her, "you know, messages that I matter. Right now I need those messages from ..." she paused and pointed around, "out there. Because I don't feel them inside. Inside I believe I'm a mistake."

"Oh," we both looked at each other then back at her.

"So we need to help you with self esteem?" It's a good guess.

"No," she seemed frustrated, "with affirmation."


When she left the room we had entirely forgotten that she had Down Syndrome, she was a woman who knew who she was and what she needed. She had gone on to say that she wanted to find positive ways to feel affirmed, but that she didn't know how. I admitted to her that I didn't really know how either, but that it would be an interesting journey. She agreed that it would.

I've spent the rest of the day thinking about her and her need for 'affirmation' and she is right, affirmation is not attention and it is not love. It's something much different. It's something we all seek at a deep level. It's something that many learn to live without. It's something that's she's unwilling to give up without a fight.


"Messages that I matter. That I'm not a cosmic mistake." It's not a lot to ask for.

But it's a hell of a lot to get.


Belinda said...

Psalm 139:15-17

That's the most powerful affirmation any of us can get--to know that we weren't a mistake--and more than that--that we were intended--just as we are.

lina said...

Hmm, this one is going to stay with me for some time. Affirmation, once again, thank God for all those around us who teach us, everyday.
Intended just as we are, hmm, again, quite a lot to think about today!

Kei said...

I keep thinking of quotes from Viktor Frankl's Man Search for Meaning since I read this post.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Kei, Man's Search for Meaning by Frankl had an incredible impact on me and I re-read it regularly. Always find something new. An incredible book, thanks for bringing it back to mind. Dave

Kei said...

Dave, I think I am on my 3rd copy of it~ it is one book that I have lent out to people and have never gotten back, so I always end up buying another one!

Anonymous said...

I wish I was as eloquent and capable of stating what *I* need and I have no apparent disability at all.

I love your blog, and I loved the story about the boy in the wheelchair. My son is deaf and has a tough time communicating and people, once they get a chance to know him, are surprised he has a brain. So sad that so many are shut off from possibilities and I think some CAPable people are more DISabled than those with physical or mental limitations!

Anonymous said...

affirmation is something we don't talk about a lot but i think it's definitely one of the basic basic things humans need. i wonder if a need for affirmation can be the root of other deviant behavior.

dave-- we're hosting a campaign against the MDA Jerry Lewis telethon and would really appreciate it if you joined and wrote something. to find out more please visit my page.

Anonymous said...

What an articulate young woman. Waiting for the follow up - I really need to know how to *do* affirmation well. People with disabilities get the message all the time that they are a "mistake" from predictable and unpredictable sources. I really want my son to know that he is more than loved - his right to be here is unqualified.