Monday, February 13, 2012

Why Won’t You Talk to Me?

The time came to learn about Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC), inside and out, and the individuals we serve by becoming more involved with Campus activities.  The first step:  accompany three individuals in Supports for Community Living program (SCL) on a trip to Walmart for grocery shopping, then bowling.  I had no idea what to expect.  The purpose was to observe, which offered my apprehension some comfort; I actually believed I needn’t interact too much with these individuals.  HA!  Any attempt to distance myself would fail for three reasons:  One, you can’t be a lone observer in a small group; two, it’s not in my nature to be antisocial, and; three, Greta would have none of it!

Upon arriving at one of the eight SCL homes on campus, I met Greta, Lisa and Connie, and their on-duty Direct Support Provider (DSP), Rose.  Greta came to WFC at age three, and despite her physical challenges, her personality is bigger than life!  She was thrilled to see me, giving me a huge hug before telling me about breakfast using sign language.  Greta can verbally communicate through muffled speech, but she, and a few others use signing and gestures to communicate.  With Greta, I managed to understand what she was telling me!  Maybe I can relate better than I’ve given myself credit for, I thought.  Connie sat in her wheelchair with a seemingly laid-back demeanor.  She had a slight smile bordering a smirk on her face, and appeared to simply be taking in the scene.  Upon offering my hand at introduction, she grasped it firmly then just as quickly let it go.  Connie is mostly nonverbal, but as we waited for the van, she released a vocalized cry many might perceive as a disruptive outburst. Rose explained Connie was communicating her impatience.  Connie likes to be on-the-go, and she made it clear we weren’t moving fast enough!  Last but not least was Lisa, who sat in her wheelchair, one leg bent and tucked underneath her and the other crossed over top.  My first thought upon meeting Lisa: Wow, I wish my legs were that limber!  Rose explained Lisa is sensory-oriented, and still “waking up”; to look at her, one would think she’s out of it.  I bent down and said hello.  She took my hand and held it in her infamous firm grip.  I held hands with her for a minute before coaxing my hand free.

Greta amazed me with her social and flirty teasing nature.  Why does this amaze you?  I’d later ask myself.  My initial reaction was another example of how we tend to underestimate the abilities of those with developmental disabilities.   Greta commandeered my attention, so I made sure Connie and Lisa were not ignored.  The interaction was a striking contrast, and I realized something about myself.  Because Lisa and Connie offered little response to my efforts to talk to them, a small part of me took it personally.  My thought process, which I believe stems from the basic human need to be accepted and belong, went something like this: I’m talking to them; they are ignoring me.  They don’t like me.  I’m feeling a little stupid, even unwanted here.  Am I doing this right?  What am I doing wrong?  I felt insecure and took their non-responsiveness as a form of rejection when the fact is they simply are unable to communicate with me the same way!

That brought more questions:   Is this why people are uncomfortable being around individuals like Lisa and Connie?  Do we need their acknowledgement, and when we don’t get it from those who can’t provide it, are we taking it personally, feeling rejected, and thus, deciding we don’t want to fool with them? Does their non-responsiveness leave us feeling insufficient, even inadequate in our own ability to connect with people with developmental disabilities?

In asking myself these honest questions, I quickly came to this conclusion:  It doesn’t matter whether I get a response back.  My interaction with Connie and Lisa, with any of those we serve is not about me, it’s about them, and their feeling included, connected, acknowledged.

In the Next Blog Entry:  Walmart or Bust! - I admit I initially questioned to myself, “Why drag these guys out to Walmart?” 
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