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

Wednesday, June 30, 2004


As I have related elsewhere in this blog, I used to work at an intermediate care facility for adults (over age 18 at that time) with severe mental retardation among other developmental disabilities. There are two stories I thought I would relate today. One about Bert and the other about Shaquanda.

Bert was a man with severe mental retardation who was confined to a wheelchair as a paraplegic. His upper body was pretty much fine, and he was well able to move around in his chair. He had dark hair and a bit of a long face. I think I connected to him because other than a difference of an hour or so, we were exactly the same age. I sometimes wondered if he might have been born in the same hospital as I. Yet there I was in the budding stages of a career in special education, he in a place he would probably remain for the rest of his days. He had no language to speak of other than saying "Ga-way" all the time.

I met Shaquanda quite by accident. As I roamed the halls of the facility, I would walk past people who appeared to be little more than piles of humanity. They were balled up and contractured. Their disabilities were so severe, the were literally moved from their beds to a mat, then the mat was moved, perhaps, and then back to their beds. They were nonverbal, unable to feed themselves or take care of any other personal needs, largely unable to move. Anyway, one day as I was going about my business at the facility, one of these little blobs of flesh said "Hi!" to me with all the personality she could muster. I immediately stopped. I learned from her that her name was Shaquanda, and from that day forward we spent many hours together having the largely one sided conversations you will often have with persons with severe mental retardation.

Shaquanda was always there looking for someone to take the time to interact with her. She saw the activity around her, but it took a mighty "Hi" from her to gain the attention of those around her. I must admit that although I then tried to interact with others like her, there was no response. I think at times I was probably more of an irritant to those people who had become used to being ignored (assuming they were able to even make that determination).

It took months for me to finally figure out what that one thing was that Bert was constantly repeating. It was literally his only language. His phrase was the words he heard most often in the place he lived to the point that he as a non verbal man was able to repeat them. Sadly, "Ga-way" was "Go away." What words would a person with mental retardation learn from the congregation at your church?


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