Friday, March 23, 2012

Change Happens

“CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE” the sign read on door at the Owensboro Science and History Museum.  “We’re not going to the museum today,” explained Ashley and Kalinn to Dempsey, Jerry and Mark.  We stood in front of the doors, like deer in headlights, a bit thrown off by the agenda change.  After a few minutes, we decided we needed to head back to the van to figure out what to do now, since it was a cold and windy day. 

Now, take a moment to think about a time you had your heart set on something, and you’re all set to enjoy it and then BAM, you can’t.  A tourist sight you were jazzed about seeing is closed for renovations.  A favorite restaurant you are craving has a two-hour wait.  A friend you’ve not seen in a long time cancels travel plans.  Were you disappointed?  Bummed?  Upset?  Frustrated?  You might express your feelings, verbally by complaining, or emotionally with tears or anger, or physically by throwing things around in a huff.  Sometimes, individuals with developmental disabilities are unable to verbally express their disappointment, but may show it in other ways.  To an outsider unfamiliar with those we serve, this expression may appear to be an "outburst" or “fit”, which many frown upon and judge.  Wouldn’t you be “fit to be tied” upon disappointing news?  Isn’t venting verbally, tossing things around, or cussing “having a fit?”

Dempsey was very upset the day’s plans had changed; he was looking forward to the Museum visit.  So as Ashley and Kalinn were loading him into the van, Dempsey expressed his upset the best way he could: a vocalized yell (because he can’t speak to say the curse words you and I might say), grasped Kalinn’s hand and his wheelchair wheel (throwing things around, slamming your fist onto something), and became uncooperative in the van loading (I don’t want Plan B, I want Plan A as planned!). 

I knew Dempsey was upset, and as it was happening, I remembered thinking, Man, what do you do with that?  Then I watched in awe as Ashley and Kalinn went to work.  Ashley started talking to him, positioning in front of him to get his attention, gently asking him to listen to her for a minute.  He resisted; she persisted.  Ashley and Kalinn both talked to Dempsey, asking him in calm, rational, and compassionate voices to let go of Kalinn’s hand until he loosen his grip so Kalinn could free herself.  They never raised their voices, threatened him, or showed impatience.  Ashley continued calmly talking to Dempsey, asking him to calm down so he could tell her what he wanted to do instead. After less than a minute, which felt longer, Dempsey calmed down and listened.  He wasn’t happy but he wasn’t throwing a tantrum anymore.  Ashley explained they didn’t know the museum was closed, apologized to him for his upset, and asked him to help them figure out where he would like to go.

Knowing Dempsey well, and since Jerry and Mark indicated they wanted to hang out at Towne Square Mall, Ashley mentioned the others wanted to go to the mall, then asked if he’d like to have lunch at Show Me’s, a sports bar infamous for its “attractive, model quality” servers.  That got Dempsey’s attention!  Ever the ladies man, he perked up some as Ashley shifted his upset to a place of empowerment to make a choice.  Her efforts to redirect his frustration succeeded; Dempsey confirmed he’d like to go to Show Me’s.  As Kalinn stood there with them, Dempsey reached out to her to give an apologetic hug.  He knew he’d not handled himself well, and he let her know he was sorry for grabbing her hand.  He also gave Ashley an apology hug.

Ashley later explained Dempsey likes to know what’s going on, and when the unexpected comes up, he’ll let it ruin his whole day.  They were making every effort to offset that, even asking him to not let it ruin his day.  Dempsey would be mildly uncooperative a couple more times during the day, but they again redirected him.  In one of these instances, I went over and started talking to him, asking him about his lunch and how he was enjoying the scenery of Show Me’s; he calmed down and engaged with me.  Yeah, I can be as smooth and charming as Dempsey when a situation calls for it.

With Plan B for the day’s agenda in place, we headed out to Towne Square Mall for a new adventure.

In the Next Blog Entry:  Mall Rats - Yeah, men with developmental disabilities are about like men without disabilities, with one exception:  they are better chick magnets!
We want to hear from you!  Please share your responses and comments by clicking below on “Comment” – you may post them anonymously or using your profile name.
“The educated do not share a common body of information, but a common state of mind.” ~Mason Cooley
Please share our blog with others via Facebook, Twitter, or email!  Follow our blog!  Click on “Join our Site” below.

Blog content is copyrighted property of Wendell Foster’s Campus for Development Disabilities and Carolyn Smith Ferber and/or other blog authors).  Content may be used, duplicated or reprinted only with the expressed authorization of the Wendell Foster’s Campus.  Permission for use, duplication or reprints may be made to

No comments:

Post a Comment