Friday, April 18, 2008

A Hand Reached Out

For today's blog we are back in the theatre in Simcoe, where we were yesterday, for the second of three posts from that experience. As you remember the day was on teasing and bullying and the group had an amazing experience together. There were around 60 there and as a teacher I try to watch everyone, try to ensure that every person gets a chance to come up to read from the flip chart, to do a role play, to answer a question in a quiz.

There are those who are eager to participate and would be up every time if they could. There are those who are a bit shy but who push away personal anxiety in order to get their time in the sun. Then there are those who need active encouragement. These are the most difficult. The workshop is on saying no, so when they say 'no' it should stand. But I always wonder if they just need encouragement but worry if they see encouragement as coercion, so I simply ask twice and take two 'nos' as 'no' and leave them alone.

One of the youngest boys in the room seemed just plain awestruck by the experience of being there. It wasn't the speed and the flash or my teaching that caught him, it was just being in the room with all these other ... um ... different people. As I wrote yestereday there were a mixture of school kids and adults from the local agencies. His eyes would fix on one guy, watch him intently, then switch to another.

I wondered how often he had opportunities like this, to be amongst his home community. Our present philosophy of not allowing contact, social or otherwise, with others with disabilities has always seemed cruel to me (not to mention a mammoth violation of civil liberties). Many have expressed that this class was the first time they were ever allowed to be together with others with disabilities in a valued kind of way. Sure, this kid knew peers with disabilities, but probably no adults. Probably none who had trod the path from school to real world.

In the end the kid refused to come up twice and I let it go. I figured that he was too interested in the 'idea' of others with disabilities to learn much from me, and besides, what he was learning by watching everyone else have fun and participate is enough. Or so I thought.

When it was all over there was a buzz in the room and people were filing out. We were in Simcoe's downtown movie theatre in the large salon. The floor was sloped all the way to the front so I had been presenting on an angle. Not a comfortable way to sit and I was terrified to take my brakes off as I'd plummit backwards into the wall. So I had to wait. I saw this young man leave his seat and approach another man, of about 40. His small white hand reached out slowly and tentatively and took the sleeve of the other guy who was excitedly talking to friends.

Noticing the touch he turned and smiled at the kid holding his sleeve. He waited to hear what the boy had to say, he spoke ... but so softly I couldn't hear. Neither could the other fellow who said, "You are going to have to talk louder." "Loud enough for me to hear too, please," I thought.

"Are you happy?" the boy asked.

There was a shocked pause. He didn't expect that. "Um, I have a girlfriend," he pauses and calls over a woman of his age, "and I have a job."

The boy was not satisfied, "But are you happy?"

The man now seemed to understand the gravity of the question. "Is there any chance that I will be happy when I grow up?"

He answered that question, "When I was young in school like you, I was unhappy. People were mean to me all the time. But now, I'm a man. I live my own life. My girlfriend loves me, I like my job and I have friends. I'm really happy. They should have told me it got better."

The boy grabbed him in a big hug, then ran from the room to join his friends. I saw him on the way out, he was animated and talking a mile a minute. I don't know what he was saying.

But I can guess.


wendy said...

Wow. That one took my breath away. I think it is such a profound question. I remember when I first came to the city at 20 years old. I was just coming out and so needed that question answered from others in my community, too. I never had the courage to actually ask the question, but like the young man in the story I watched. Like him, I wish someone had told me it would get easier. I'm so glad he found someone to ask and that he got the answer he did!

Anonymous said...

All I can say is Thanks Dave.

I have a 10 year old with DS, ann while I have never really doubted he will have a nice life etc , I have always wondered what HE would think of it.

I am glad he will think and KNOW it will get better.


Aussie Leis

Anonymous said...

The whole idea of not being encouraged to associate with like-minded or like-challenged people concerns me.

If my husband and I moved to another country where English was not the first language, I would actively seek english speakers and spend time with them. I would be very distressed if told I could only spend time with people who spoke whatever the native language of that country was and that it was wrong to spend time with people with whom I could communicate easily. Why do we treat our "challenged" friends, family and clients differently?

I am not saying that they should be segregated but they should certainly be allowed or encouraged to have friends within their own community.

Cindy B

Anonymous said...

As a Deaf person, I absolutely agree with Cindy B.

I think the trend toward isolation from one's disabled peers is basically a pendulum-swing away from the older idea in which we WERE segregated from non-disabled peers. The new buzz word is now "inclusion," as in, "We have the right to be educated among our non-disabled peers, and to apply for jobs with non-disabled peerson on a competitive basis, and to participate in the same activities as our non-disabled peers with the appropriate accommodations."

And we DO have the right to do all of these things. Forced segregation is never appropriate whether on the basis of race, gender, or disability status.

But what too many people forget is that ALLOWING occasional contact with one's peers, or even occasionally deliberately choosing an environment in which everyone shares the same disability, is not at all the same as forced segregation. "Inclusion" should not have to become another word for "isolation." REAL inclusion means real CHOICES.

All 4 My Gals said...

I agree! That's why even when I don't feel I have the time or need for a support group anymore, I take the time to attend and participate because it gives Tarenne the chance to be around other people who have T21. Even though I like to be different sometimes, I don't want to be different all the time. KWIM? Human nature. :)

Thanks Dave!

Anonymous said...

Well said, Nicole. We all need times when we're able to look around and see people who "look like me." People who are white, able bodied, in one of the majority religions, middle class, yada yada, I think tend to forget how important that is because they experience that all the time.

Personally I embrace diversity and LIKE spending lots of time in environments where there are people of all sorts, including many who are different from me. But if that's ALL I have, ALL the time (and not just some of it), then eventually that feels very isolating. I suspect that most of the people who try to cut off disabled kids from disabled peers or adults must be Caucasin, non-disabled, etc etc., or else they wouldn't be trying to impose that kind of isolation.

For a child who is still forming a sense of identity, it's not just isolating, it's also something that can have a very negative impact on their self-image. In the most extreme cases (for kids who NEVER see an adult who "looks like me") they may even wonder if they will be ALIVE beyond childhood. Or if they will still be _____ (insert disability or other difference here) as an adult and, if not, then who will they be then. I'm not making this up. There are actual kids out there who have had these questions. Or certainly I've heard of it with deaf kids who never meet deaf adults, and I imagine similar things happen with other kids with other disabilities or other differences.

I've heard of parents who have adopted children from abroad who try to make a point of visiting their child's originating country from time to time while xe is growing up. (Say, China or whereever.) Apparently they report that one of the highlights for their kid is just being able to look around them for once and see people who look like them, instead of always being in a racial minority, always being the "odd one out". Exact same idea for people with disabilities.

Ettina said...

I wrote a blog entry about a similar experience I had, at

Anonymous said...

Awesome story, Dave.

And you just won an Excellent Blog Award.