April 7, 2010 by Marj Hatzell
It was another one of THOSE moments. You know, the “Slap me upside the head because I TOTALLY had a deja vu moment, except it was of the FUTURE and not the PAST” moments? Do you have those? No?
I do. Often. Often, often. Many times often.
I was walking around my favorite haunt, my Mecca, if you will (Tarzhay. Like you didn’t know that) and spotted a group. During the day, the adult programs take their clients out in large vans and split them into groups and take them to the grocery store, Target, you name it, in an effort to teach them some sort of life skills. Because apparently the whole time they were in the 3-21 program (the ages of special ed) they had no life skills training and even though they’ve been working on writing his first name for thirty years he STILL DOESN’T GET IT.
Anyways, these clients, the ones that didn’t function well enough to make it in some sort of coached job situation, usually end up in a daycare program of sorts. Except they call it a “sheltered workshop” or “Adult Day Program” so that people don’t feel they are sending their adult child to a babysitter, even though that’s what it is. Basically, everyone and their uncle gave up on these poor souls long ago. They were low-functioning, so they were never mainstreamed. They were “behavior problems” so they were segregated and put in a “functional skills” setting. They were non-verbal so people assumed they wouldn’t learn academics and instead focused on life skills instead of reading and writing. Or their parents and caregivers just stuck them there because there weren’t many options or they didn’t know what else to do with them or they just plain gave up.
I don’t want to give up.
I watched the two adult men and their caregiver meander around the store. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but I couldn’t take my eyes and ears off of them. It was almost as if I was watching a glimpse of my future. One man was rapidly reciting things, talking non-stop. You’d almost not know he was “different” if it wasn’t for his bizarre speech pattern and his occasional dive into gibberish, but his caretaker was nodding in agreement and saying, “Oh, really?” as if she understood every word. The other man stimmed, flicked his fingers, babbled, drooled, buzzed and hummed. I saw various shoppers back up and turn away quickly. I saw others stare at them. I even caught a few staring, rolling their eyes and indignantly sighing under their breath, like they were annoyed or something. And then there were the few, like me, who smiled and pretended it was perfectly normal.
Because it is normal. For me. For us. For my family.
That could be my family some day. MY SON. My son could be the client. He may end up in a job he loves or he may still need constant guidance and end up in a “program.” He might be the one buzzing and flapping and humming and be shushed once in a while by his caretaker. He might be the one that other people are avoiding because they are afraid or too ignorant to care. It might be him babbling incoherently while his service provider attempts to steer him to buy socks or underwear or his favorite snack so that they can bring them back to his program and group home or where ever.
It might be my boy.
The next time you see this? The next time you spot someone who OBVIOUSLY sticks out, who makes weird noises, who scares little kids? Do me a favor, would you? Smile. Say hello. Don’t turn and run away. Don’t be afraid. You might be running from my child. From my glorious, beautiful boy. My child turned into a man. It might be him. Please treat him like a human being. PLEASE treat him with respect. Don’t stare. Don’t be disgusted. Even though he won’t see it, I WILL. And it will hurt me. A lot. Far more than it hurts right now.
Even though he’ll go on with his day, happy as a lark, playing with his slinkies and his buses without a care in the world, as long as he gets his m&ms when his bath is over.