“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, January 16, 2012

Underestimating others

I had an interesting experience yesterday in our Light and Power class.  I was sitting with a friend, perhaps the most severely impaired member of our group.  He would be considered as having a severe intellectual disability as he is largely nonverbal mostly just sitting, occasionally stating single words like "presents" or "pizza" or something similar.  It would be easy to think he is oblivious to what is occurring in the class whether it be Bible lessons, or singing, or other activities that occur during each session.

Yesterday during prayer, a woman who was praying said something to the effect, "Protect our friend in the hospital..."  My head was bowed (I was praying).  He reached over to me, lifted up my chin to get my attention and pointed to the crook in his arm.  The way he did it, I knew exactly what he was trying to communicate; the experience of getting a needle in his arm for taking blood.  He pointed to his arm once again, and held his hand up in my face and shook it to say "No."  I said to him, "Are you talking about the hospital?"  He responded by pointing like a needle in his arm and again shaking his open hand in my face to say no.  "You don't like the hospital do you?"  I asked.  He shook his hand in my face again, agreeing "No."  "Yeah I don't like the hospital either" I replied.

That interaction struck me in that in all the verbiage that was occurring in the class between the teacher talking, the others in the group talking and the actual prayer, he picked out a word that he was familiar with and had an immediate communicative response.  My assumption was that he was not attending, perhaps my perception was that he was unable to attend.  He totally blew me out of the water by attending, recognizing a concept that was presented, gaining my attention, and communicating to me what he thought about the concept.  Hopefully, I will not underestimate him again. 



Ann said...

Thanks, Jeff, for a compelling example and reminder! We have a granddaughter with DS and slightly better communication skills but she knows a lot more than she can communicate. She calls me "her" but I'm always "her" so that's her name for me!

Ann said...

Jeff, if you haven't seen this video it follows right along with your blog:
Autistic Girl Expresses Unimaginable Intelligence
Amazing video which proves autism is not what most doctors and everyone else think it is. For educational purposes only, protected under Copyright law.

illinois social security disability said...

Thanks for posting. We live in a society where we can find so many disable persons who are living their life and struggling every day. Our society is made for us and we ignore them who are challenged. It is our responsibility to understand them

Jordan V said...

Very interesting post Dr. McNair. It goes along well with the video you resently shared via facebook about the girl who has severe autism but uses the computer to communicate.

Its seems like assuming understanding trumps assuming otherwise.

Mark said...

Wow! That must have been an overwhelming experience for you. I understand what this must have been like, as best as I can, from similar experiences in my own classroom. I've had students "labeled" as fully non-verbal, unable to communicate in any way make one word, relevant comments, agreements, acceptance or protest of ongoing events. Then I hear several words strung together... Care providers should watch out for when these guys start talking

One boy, the one I am mostly thinking about above, who for all I knew, had no reason to know what was special about the day, came to school one day last week, got off the bus, singing "Happy Birthday to You" and shouting "cake" all morning until we had the party for his classmate after lunch that day. This was amazing.

My point is that even the most severely disabled among us understand their enviornment and the people affecting them more profoundly than we percieve; they communicate with us more directly and honestly than we even begin to receive. WE need to look more closely.

Anonymous said...

Dr. McNair,
There are so many times in which we may not think that a person with a severe disability may not understand what we are saying. In the past there had been some people that I knew that would say things in front of a particular person that had a disability. Just because they had been confined to a wheel chair and were unable to speak didn’t mean that they did not understand every word that they were saying. What the people didn’t know is that this person had a computer in which he was able to type what he was thinking or wanted to say. The guy typed in a response to what the others were saying which made them feel very sorrowful and embarrassed. I laughed because they assumed that he was unable to communicate with others. In working with people with disabilities I have come to learn different ways in which they communicate. I have also come to realize that we can learn a lot from people who have disabilities.