Friday, September 12, 2008

The Power of 'Yes'

Throughout the session he watched me warily. He laughed a bit at the funny stuff. He concentrated when the group was asked a question. He was very 'present' in the class. I asked him to participate in the role plays but he kindly, politely and firmly refused. Well the workshop is about abuse prevention and saying 'no' ... so I figured he passed.

When it was all over a few folks came up to speak with me, he hung back. The first guy said something that struck me funny, 'I don't know if you planned it that way but this was actually good.' I laughed and told him that I had planned the workshop and I had planned for it to be fun. 'Most classes, they don't plan this way,' he said leaving me wondering exactly what kind of teachers, what kind of classes, he has sat through.

In my book 'Do Be Do: How to teach and what to teach people with intellectual disabiliites' I point out that most people when they teach, slow down the flow of information, ... they are slow learners so teach them slow ... when in fact people with disabilities, when taught need the information to come quickly, they need a format that is engaging, they need interest up and attention engaged (kind of like the rest of us).

I was still chuckling over the 'don't know if you planned it tha way' remark when I noticed that everyone else was gone and the fellow who had paid attention but not participated was still there eyeing me. Now this had been an abuse prevention workshop, I was now preparing myself to hear something horrible. He crept towards me almost as if he was frightened of me. I didn't look up and smile to encourage him. I do not have a really welcoming face, at rest it looks angry, when I force a smile I look cannabilistic. It's best to let people approach without eyeing them.

Finally he was close enough to speak, "What you said about saying 'no'?" I looked up and said, "Saying no is important."

He nodded but said nothing else. I went back to putting my things away, give him time, give him time, give him time.

"You know another word you should teach about?" I glanced up, ready to hear.

"Yes, they don't let us say 'yes'."

I was taken aback, and asked, "What do you mean?"

"My girlfriend and I, we love each other, they won't let us say 'yes', we have to say 'no'."

My heart broke for this guy.

"It hurts bad when you can't say yes. You should teach about that too."

He glanced over towards the door of the classroom I was teaching in and began to edge his way towards the door. "You won't tell on me will you?" I assured him that I would not. I told him that I will begin working the word 'yes' into my training, I will begin writing about 'yes' and consulting about 'yes', but I would wait a few months so that no one would know it was him.

No one but me.

I still see his face, looking at me expectantly, holding me accountable.

I choose to begin today, with this blog, and this afternoon when I present with Manuela about abuse prevention - the point that 'no means no' has to be understood in agencies but that 'yes means yes' also has to be in policies to prevent agency abuse of the hearts of those in care.

A young man with sparkling green eyes had to courage to challenge me to change, to grow, will never know that I am now doing what I promised him that I would do.

He believed in me, so maybe he does.

(dedicated to one who lives in fear in hopes that one day he lives in love)


wendy said...


Anonymous said...


Caroline said...

Years ago I was summoned to a residential home where a client of mine was in short stay. She had struck up a "friendship" with an elderly guy in there and the staff were outraged because she kept being found in the corridors late at night sneaking to his bed. Theysaid she was at danger of falling alone late at night like that. "Put them in a bed together then" I said - "but he's married - his wife is in a severely mental health impaired unit" was the reply - who the hell are we to judge or deny two people comfort if that's what they choose - slightly off topic but the issue is the same - fantastic post

Kei said...


Caroline Williams said...

I would like to thank you for your posts.

I do not have an intellectual disability and nor do I suffer abuse, but I do have the misfortune to work for people who are not respectful of boundaries. For them, "no" means "keep asking until she says yes". For them, decisions about the rest of my life are theirs to influence, through blackmail if need be.

I have been reading your blog since its first birthday, and I just today realised how much of an impact on me reading your blog has had. To read daily that one has the right to be treated as an autonomous person, to make one's own decisions without pressure or bullying... Slowly but surely it changes the way you think. It has taught me to identify when I am being treated unacceptably, and to refuse to accept it.


Wheeling said...

Thank you. I work frequently with a group of people with developmental disabilities. Their tales of not being allowed to say "yes" often cut me as deep as the stories where they haven't been allowed to say "no". In the end, it all comes back to denying their choice as human beings, and their rights to control their own relationships.

Keep up the good work.

Ettina said...

I have a different problem of 'can't say yes'. In my case, I can't say 'yes' to a lot of things (not sex in particular, I have no desire for sex) not because anyone else is preventing me, but because I'm too afraid of being taken advantage of.

Anonymous said...

This is completely off topic, but, Dave, I thought you might enjoy reading this story about a woman with intellectual disabilities who saved her Mom's life (by calling for an ambulance) after taking a course in first aid targeted at people with intellectual disabilities:

FAB said...

This gentleman hit the nail on the head! Too often when I am asked to provide assistance to a team who is struggling to support someone, I find that they aren't allowing the person to say "no" or "yes", then they're shocked when the person challenges them!

theknapper said...

And sometimes it's supporting someone who says "yes" to a relationship that's abusive & respecting that decision.