Friday, July 27, 2012

A Ladies Man with a Remote

Kenny came to Wendell Foster’s Campus in 2004 and lives in a Supports for Community Living (SCL) house with two other roommates.  Forty-seven year old Kenny received no formal education as a child in Cadiz, Kentucky and very limited therapy before arriving to our Campus.  I’m told Kenny went to school on his first day as a child and never went back.  Now independent in his power wheelchair, Kenny gets around on Campus at a notoriously break-neck speed in the hallways.  He  also tends to "rubberneck” at other goings-on, thus not paying attention to where he’s going, and as a result, run into things!  Kenny also exclusively has in his possession hanging around his neck a special remote control that opens all the handicapped-accessible doors on Campus.  Ever a flirt, this Casanova loves opening the doors for the ladies with it.  Kenny sometimes has his moods and no words are needed to know when he’s in one.  The scowl on his face, or the look he gives you when you sweetly say “good morning” says, “no it’s not” or “bug off.”  Who among us doesn’t have these kinds of mornings?

Upon meeting with his speech therapist, Michele Clouse, he had one desire:  learn how to read. Kenny speaks an occasional “yeah” or “no,” using vague gestures beyond my comprehension to communicate what he wants.  Kenny’s first step towards his goal involved learning the alphabet and their letter shapes, how they sound, then progressing to form simple sight words such as “yes,” “no,” and “you.”  From there, Kenny worked on reading simple sentences such as “How are you?” and “Yes, I can.”  This learning took place over several years, and understandably so.  Remember, therapy is a process.  During their course of working together, Michele realized that Kenny had no concept of time – how to tell it, the seasons, months, etc.  Lately, she’s been working with him on time concepts and learning numbers, which he didn’t know either.  The ultimate goal with this effort will support him in keeping track of schedules for work or birthdays, holidays, etc.

Therapy with Kenny also involves his practicing the use of his electronic communication device so he comes to rely on it more.  To use it, and because he’s unable to read, he’s had to learn a variety of abstract symbols that help him understand its menu options for communication, for example, photos of animals, food, etc.  As he’s learned his alphabet and short sight words, his use of the device expands his opportunity for greater communication.  Another one of Kenny’s goals includes becoming more involved within the community, and to do so he’ll need a reliable means to communicate his needs and wants so that people unfamiliar with his gesturing language may understand him.

During my observation, I interview Kenny, an experience that brings home the reality of the frustration by those who cannot verbalize and those who seek to understand what they are communicating.  As Kenny and I visit, I am quickly reminded how incredibly impatient I am and how much I take for granted my ability and ease in communicating!
But that impatience shifts into anger as I slowly realize the injustices of a society past as I watch Kenny struggle to respond to me, even with his communication device.

In the Next Blog Entry:  A Will and a Way - “I felt Kenny’s frustration in his ability to answer quickly . . . . . My heart ached . . . .Then, a pang of anger swells at the injustices by a school system of the past . . . .”

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