This place matters

This place matters

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Monks, part 2

When you're working with people with developmental disabilities, it's easy to forget there's a grown, or partially grown person inside there. It's tempting to interact with people with severe intellectual disabilities as if they're babies or small children; in fact, you'd be surprised at the number of people in the world who refer to all people with mental retardation as "kids," regardless of their ages.
But the thing is, our brains are really big, and they do lots of things. And so if somebody's brain won't let her make words, or follow directions, or pick up a fork, it's easy to think their brain just doesn't work, in general. However, the parts of the brain that control speech and motor skills are just a tiny portion. People with autism who learn to speak later in life often speak of hearing and comprehending everything that went on around them, but not being able to process and react. 
There was this lady. She was amazing. She spoke only a few words and did so rarely. She was visually impaired, used a wheelchair and didn't have a lot of motor control, so it was easy to forget that she was... in there, I guess. Every now and then, she'd just start crying, out of the blue. Then one day we noticed it wasn't out of the blue. She would cry if someone else was sad. If you were venting to a coworker about a relationship ending, or someone dying, she cried. Sometimes, she just cried because she could tell you were sad.
There was a young man who didn't know any words at all, and certainly didn't appear have the cognitive ability to comprehend death. One of the children who lived in the facility died. This young man found the staff person who had been closest to the girl who died and followed her around all day and petted her on the back, as if to comfort her.
There was this little bitty girl who moved in when she was just a little thing. She screamed a lot, kind of drove me crazy. Didn't talk or interact, didn't smile when you sang to her, didn't play on the playground, it felt like there was no getting through to her. Then one day she just climbs up into my lap and starts playing with my hands. And after a while, I realize she's making my hands do patty-cake. She even made my hand "mark it with a B."

This is Amanda Biggs, a woman with autism who tells the story better than I do.

This is Sondheim, who does not have autism, as far as I know.

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