I remember when I started working with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. My thought process was, I’d give back a little while working and earning a paycheck. I was in for a complete eye-opener when my world was given an extra volt and charge.
Throughout my lifetime, I’ve known a handful of people and have come into contact with people who either have an intellectual or developmental delay. I knew of them but I never really got to know who they are. I never sat and talked with them and tried to understand their point of view. Regrettably and selfishly, I just overlooked them not knowing how to approach them.
Working for this special population has allowed me to understand their ways of thinking and doing things, their emotions and their hardships. Everyone comes to term with adversities at some point in their lifetime but those with special needs continually struggle and strive to face and even overcome certain disadvantages constantly.
It is estimated that between one and three percent of the world’s population – or roughly 200 million – have an intellectual or developmental disability, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Population and Special Olympics. These statistics are not as up to date as I have hoped but it helps put into perspective the special needs population which doesn’t discriminate against ethnicity, socioeconomic status or gender.
Their struggles are real and constant. However, I have also learned that they have a lot to offer. Oftentimes it takes a little bit of patience and understanding. These are just a few lessons I’ve encountered through my work with The Arc of the Midlands.
1. Treat them with respect
If there’s one thing they want to earn, it’s your respect. Adults with special needs are not children although many people view them as such because of their mentality. It may be easy to look down on them but know they just want to feel loved and respected like any other human. They want to be treated like everyone else and yes this means facing certain consequences but in the long run it’s how they mature.
2. They remember everything
No, they don’t necessarily remember dates or days (although some do!) but they remember events or something dramatic that’s happened. If I was sick or out, someone remembers to ask and he or she generally cares. When I was in a fender bender, certain clients continually asked about me (and my car). Sometimes I can get caught up in life and become insensitive to others but they remind me to slow down and appreciate what’s important.
3. They have desires, too.
Until I started working in the field, I never knew about group homes or thought they could live on their own in their own home. I ignorantly thought they lived with family probably because of the few encounters I’ve had. Many of the adults want to live independently or as close to it as possible. They also want to work, have relationships and just go on vacations. There are still institutions in South Carolina where these desires aren’t met. There are even cases where people live with family or in homes that may feel like an institution at times. By talking with them and treating them like humans, we can help cut down on the isolation (and sometimes abuse) between them and the world.
4. Everyone has a talent.
I’ve learned that all individuals have some sort of God-given talent or skill to show the world. They just want to show the world what they’ve got. So many people with disabilities are overlooked because people may not take them seriously but if we all slow down a bit, we can learn to appreciate what they have to offer. Some people are terrific at painting or drawing while others enjoy laboring away at jobs others find boring. Even just smiling and conversing with people is a talent others have. I’m sure you’ve been approached by someone at the check-out line whose smile and attitude brightened your day. I know I have.
5. Have patience and enjoy the small things.
Today’s society is so much about going, going and going it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important in life. Patience really is a virtue and people with special needs seem to help me realize this and grasp it more. Perhaps it’s because they are continually having to learn it themselves. Whatever the case, they help me slow down and appreciate what’s important in life.
Learn more about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in South Carolina by visiting the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs website, www.ddsn.sc.gov. From here, learn about different providers and agencies, how to report abuse and where families can receive assistance.