Friday, October 12, 2012

Stitching Voice

I've thought about publishing this story for a couple of weeks. I worried that it might offend but then thought - hey, seriously, this was a great moment and a terrific memory for me. So, all speed ahead.

I was doing an abuse prevention class for people with disabilities and one of the fellows there was an energetic and outgoing and assertive man with Down Syndrome. He added an enormous amount of energy to the workshop and he had me laughing several times. I know that some will read this as a stereotypical representation of people with Down Syndrome and I don't mean that - besides he was an assertive outgoing MAN who had Down Syndrome. I liked him.

We did a couple of role plays and it became immediately obvious that he ha no problem at all with being clear about his boundaries, using his voice with effectiveness and demonstrating incredible social skills. It's a times like these I think to myself "man, who the hell parented you, whoever they were they did a helluva job."

I think I need to be clear that I don't reserve these thoughts for people with disabilities. There is a woman at my bank who is smart, funny, engaging, helpful and has never treated me with any kind of patronisation or stigmatisation. She's kind with everyone. She's just an extremely lovely person. I thought, "wow, who the hell parented you, whoever they were they did a helluva job."

Anyways, afterwards I spoke with him and told him that I'd loved teaching him but that in fact he didn't need much teaching. I asked him how he developed such a strong voice and such clear boundaries. He said, without thinking, "My mom." I waited for him to continue but he just started laughing. Then, he said, "You know what she taught me?"

I asked.

"She told me that I was born with a hole in my heart, they stitched that up. She told me that I also had a hole in my face, that they didn't stitch up, and I was to use it if people treated me badly."

I laughed and laughed. Good for her. Good for him. He has a sense of humour about his disability AND has picked up strong messages about being his own first line of defence. Awesome.

I meet so many people with disabilities who have had 'the hole in their face stitched up' ... who don't know how to complain, how to be assertive, how to defend themselves or how to speak for themselves.

Not this guy.

This MAN.

Disability doesn't mean subservience or compliance to the mastery of others - people who are raised with voice have voice, people who are raised with pride have pride. I can't imagine what life this guy is going to live, but I do know, that it will be on his own terms and his voice will have to be considered because ... of course ... the hole in his face hasn't been stitched up. 


Anonymous said...

I think the lesson shared from this man is good for all of us. We need to speak up for ourselves. I saw a movie the other day that empasized a saying I heard years ago - "we receive the love that we think we deserve". I think that transfers to respect - we receive the respect that we think we deserve". If we are not willing to speak up for ourselves - why should others? Good on him - and wow - what a mom!

Laura said...

No need for all those clarifiers in your story Dave! Sounds like a fun guy to be around!

Nitewriter said...

I taught personal safety awareness classes for years including some self defense techniques for people with various disabilities. The three biggest tips: show self confidence (if you don't feel it, project it and you'll eventually believe it yourself); use a eye contact and a strong voice; and listen to your intuition (gut instincts).

This young man may not have mentioned all of these but it's apparent he uses them all.

Jennie said...

Dave, I just love your writing. Your clear respect and admiration for individuals with disabilities is apparent to all. As a mom to a 4yr old son who happens to have Down syndrome, I wish I could thank the mom of that man you met. I plan to quote her many times in my life and hopefully plant that mantra of bold integrity into the heart of my son. Hope you don't mind if I link to you in a blog post later today...

CJ said...

Your young man reminded me of several men I work with who have disabilities. I get tired of others trying to speak for them when they can speak for themselves. I get tired of care providers telling them to be "good boys." The behavioral consultant told a 22 year old young man who has both a mild intellectually disability and Bipolar II that he needed to behave to earn his outings. She wanted to add substance abuse to his treatment plan because he walked away from his residence and walked into a 7-11 and took one beer and drank it. I had to inform her that I was in charge of his plan and a 22 year old drinking a beer does not indicate a substance abuse problem. I advised her that I had a drink with friends the past weekend, did I need to enter a program? I told her and my client that 22 year old men don't "earn outings." I explained that the issue was safe and unsafe behavior, health issues (psych meds with alcohol) and legal consequences of stealing from the 7-11.

Josiah said...

Why does a 22 year old man have to steal from a 7-11 in order to get a beer? Does he have no access to money?