Saturday, December 11, 2010
One of the things that has really struck me since Alanna's diagnosis with autism is how it has personally impacted my world view. A person in a wheelchair, a person with an obvious intellectual disability or other condition would have probably gone unnoticed by me in days past. I might have been polite, even moderately helpful, but probably noticeably uncomfortable and any help or social contact given would have been primarily motivated by wanting to disengage as quickly as possible. Let's face it - people are in general not comfortable around those with disabilities. They do not know what to say to such an individual, or they may be simply afraid of them. Children intuitively sense this from their parents and learn this response unintentionally.
When I was in university I had the opportunity to do a bit of street mission. What struck me most in that short time was that most of all, the homeless people on the streets wanted to be acknowledged as human. They wanted to be able to share their stories and not be treated as if they didn't exist. I have to admit, after that experience, I tried, when I could, to not treat a beggar like a slot machine for my guilt, but rather, to try to treat them like a person and understand their stories too.
This is the same reality for those with disabilities. It is easier to pretend they do not exist, like the homeless (or criminals, or other undesirables) than it is to engage them as just another person.
A wise person once told me that he knew within a few moments of meeting a person whether or not they would be generous with their time or money because of a true generous spirit rather than guilt. He said, A man who believes he is where he is because of his own actions believes he deserves his fortune. But a man who knows he has his fortune because he was chosen to have it will be more willing to give it up for the service of others.
So, I challenge you dear reader - the next time you see a person with a disability, engage them, get to know them. If you don't know what to say or what to do, say so. It may seem uncomfortable to you, but realize that the person you are addressing probably already knows this and has answered many such questions before.
How do I play with Alanna? She is not responding to me.
Why doesn't Alanna talk?
You're in a wheelchair - do you want me to kneel when I speak to you?
You're struggling walking, should I be helping you?
I know it's hard for you to hear, does it help to speak more slowly?
Having a child with autism has made me a much more compassionate person. I am starting to see others as God's children, people to be loved and celebrated, and that although people have and always will make poor choices, many people are where they are because of circumstances too.
Before you think I am going to sprout "autism is a gift" nonsense, let me be frank - it's not. It sucks and I hate it. If I could do anything to make Alanna's autism go away tomorrow I would do it in a heartbeat. I simply wanted to point out that in our life circumstances, we can choose how to react - to learn and grow, or to be a victim. I am thankful I can understand others better - even if, given a choice, I would have preferred to never have had such an understanding. Perhaps that makes me a terrible person. I just think it makes me human. Like Alanna. Like all of us - with or without disabilities.