Friday, March 30, 2012

The Show Me's Lunch Experience

The Show Me’s staff and manager were attentive to the need for space accommodation as five male customers from Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC) entered their restaurant to have lunch with the “Show Me” Girls.  Our dining arrangement was set up in two long tables next to each other in the back room where several TV’s were.  Kalinn, Mark, Dempsey, Mike and Lawrence sat at one table.  Ashley, Jerry, Rex and I would sit at the other table.  Once settled we began our meal like anyone else would – reviewing the menus.

Initially, having these guys review the menus struck me as odd.  I’m aware many of the folks we serve have special dietary needs requiring their food be pureed, so the idea never occurred to me these guys would actually order off the menus!   Duh!  They could choose what they wanted “a la pureed!”  Additionally, I would soon learn each man’s dietary requirements are unique.

Ashley gave Jerry a menu, setting it in front of him.  Rex, a fairly independent guy, had one of his own to review.  The Direct Support Providers (DSPs) ask each person, except Rex who was perusing the options for himself, what they wanted to eat through a series of “yes” and “no” questions.  Ashley asked Jerry what he wanted, mentioned a few choices until he said “yes” to a cheeseburger with fries.  Jerry requires his food be pureed, and interestingly, needs all liquids thickened, to reduce the risk of swallowing either of these into his lungs.  Because of Jerry’s sudden involuntary muscular movements, he would also need help with eating his meal.  I incorrectly assumed each individual would, so I would learn the various ways the DSPs would offer meal support.  For example, Mark needs his food pureed too, but is capable feeding himself.  Michael can eat food like you and me, but in smaller manageable bites, as does Dempsey.  Rex will eat his meal as it comes prepared on his plate but with one exception:  he ordered crab legs and would need Lawrence, his DSP, to crack them open and pull out the crabmeat.  Otherwise, Rex feeds himself just like you and me.

I continue to be surprised how differently developmental disabilities impact someone’s ability.  No one individual is alike; each has unique physical, mental and emotional challenges, different needs for different areas in his or her life.  To compartmentalize a person with a developmental disability into one category is a huge mistake made out of ignorance.  To assume what one person can or can’t do, can or cannot understand negates, discriminates and discounts one’s ability and potential.  We are all each unique in our own personal health challenges, physiological challenges and mental challenges.  We can’t assume one’s disabilities, or his or her lack of ability, just as we can’t make assumptions about a particular race or ethnicity, what they do, like to eat, or their character or values.  These types of assumptions stem from ignorance, which breeds stereotyping which breeds discrimination.  In recognizing the uniqueness of each individual with a developmental disability, we can begin to eliminate assumptions and step into the role of supporting their empowerment, while showing respect.

Once our lunches arrive, meals are blended in the food processor, crab legs are cracked and picked clean, and small bites are created so all may enjoy their Show Me’s meal.  The DSPs tend to their charges first before enjoying their own meals.  There’s no ravenous consumption or “pigging out”.  There’s no rushing through the meal with the shoveling of food into mouths.  The dining process for those with developmental disabilities plays out as a methodical process, ensuring all bites are chewed well, and/or effectively and safely swallowed.

During this particular lunch, I become acutely aware of how fast I eat my food.  I decide to slow down and enjoy my meal one bite at a time, the company around me, and the ambiance.  Um, well, as well as one can enjoy it when sitting in a sports bar with several TV’s flashing sports at you.

In the Next Blog Entry:  A Green Bay Packers Fan - As we were beginning to leave, he became very excited, which became evident by his erratic body movement.  Jerry was motioning towards the wall . . .”
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