May 19, 2014 by Angel Pricer
These are words coworkers have used to describe the individuals with intellectual disabilities I support. This part-time work was supposed to be a meaningful income-generating activity to see me through the lean times of building The Creator’s Academy. But ever since I challenged some of the practices in this field, my hours have steadily decreased to the point that I might as well not be there at all. I stay, for now, because I value the person I support and the relationship we have developed.
Working there has shown me that, while the kids for whom the Creator’s Academy is designed face different life circumstances, there is one thing that the individuals I support and all children have in common; adults who are doing for them things that they can do for themselves.
Sometimes these adults mean well. They want to ease the perceived burden of the person who struggles to thumb through a stack of papers to find her own name within an alphabetical list, or the child who gets off task during his morning routine. There are times when assistance is warranted and times when it’s not. Habitual enabling is different than being mindfully helpful in the moment.
Often, it’s a lack of patience that drives us to do for others what they are capable of doing for themselves. Unfortunately this sends a message that someone else will do the things they have difficulty with instead of helping to cultivate the skills and self-esteem to complete tasks on their own.
In both the support of individuals with disabilities and normally developing children there is a lot of focus on what they can’t do. How much of this is real disability and how much is dependence created for the sake of momentary convenience?
Presuming competence and gently encouraging an adult or child to stay focused on something that takes them 15 minutes that you could do in 2 is no easy task for most people. Our world moves fast, and the prevailing mindset is those that can’t keep up get left behind. I see it at work and I see it in the education system. And, I speak up about it.
Sometimes speaking up earns the enmity of my coworkers and bosses, but I am willing to take that chance in order to live up to ideas that I hold dear; ideas that matter.
Today as I was leaving the food pantry where the person I support volunteers, the director said “you were just given high praise for the work you do with (the individual).” She noted that how I interact with (this person) is different than how she sees most of the people in my position do this job and she recognizes the value in that.
The receptionist said “With you, these people are learning something. The ones who don’t have someone like you aren’t.” These comments fell like gentle rain on my parched heart. Working in an environment of presumed dependence and dysfunction is like a dry, cracked desert, but outside of those walls, we create our own oasis.
What this individual is learning may never lead to gainful employment, but having the experience that you matter, that you are competent, and that someone cares enough to patiently allow you to be who you are is more valuable than any job will ever be. Imagine a world where every person has that opportunity.