I am lucky in my work. I get to meet lots of people with a disability. I meet all types and it is a great privilege to develop supports for them and with them. I hope these supports make a great difference to their lives. Of course there is no guarantee that supports will be successful. Lots of factors come into play. Bureaucracy, life, markets and just plain old circumstances all impact. As they say, The best laid plans of mice and men.
Last week I met a young lad with his mother and little brother. The lad has Autism. He is a big fellow. He finds it hard to meet new people. He finds it difficult to express himself. He is shy and withdrawn. Questions to him are met with a grunt or a shrug of his shoulders. His answers are given with minimal eye contact. He looks down and just gives furtive glances out of the corner of his eye.
As I walked into the waiting room my client sat slumped in his chair looking at his feet nervously. His little brother, in contrast, was a bundle of energy. He had a baseball cap on back to front and when he saw me he beamed me a bright smile. I tend to do things a little left field sometimes. To try and lighten the mood I went straight to the little brother. I shook his hand and said, “I’m Gary, I’m here to help you develop your supports.”
He laughed and said to me, “I’m not Sam, that’s him over there.” The mother picked up straight away what I was doing and laughed. Sam, my client for the day, looked at me out of the corner of his eye. I fancy I noticed a small but sheepish grin from him as well. I hoped that my little ploy had worked in assisting to lighten the mood a little.
Of course these sorts of meetings are serious and very formal. I led the family into the meeting room and addressed Sam directly. I explained to Sam my role and told him that I would like to hear from him about what sort of support he would like if possible. He looked down at his feet and shrugged his shoulders. Little brother, perhaps wanting to be centre of the attention again, informed me that Sam, “Don’t talk much.” Mum verified this and said that Sam was not likely to offer much to the process as he rarely said more than two words.
I assured Sam that this was fine. I let him know that anything he did say, even if it was just one word, would be taken seriously and would help me to develop his supports. Even so it was hard to get anything from him. As these meetings go, mum did most of the talking.
Being deaf I have to explain to my clients how we will communicate. For these types of meetings I use Live Remote Captioning. I explain how the system works and that the captioning is also my notes. I let them know that because I get a transcript emailed to me of the whole conversation I have no excuses for forgetting anything. I show them the screen of my computer and they see how everything that they say gets transcribed. Little brother was fascinated. “COOOOOL” he said. Even Sam looked up from the floor to see what was happening. I sensed he might be beginning to thaw a little.
During the course of the conversation mum explained that Sam gets anxious. He thinks people are staring at him and talking about him all the time. This sometimes causes panic attacks. Sometimes in meetings I recount some of my own experiences. I looked at Sam and told him I used to feel like that. I told him how that when I was his age I used to think everyone on the school bus was talking about me. I told him that because I couldn’t hear them I thought they were all talking about me. I told him how I would be constantly glancing around and how this would make me have panic attacks. I explained how my heart would race and my head feel light. I asked if he felt like this sometimes. He looked up at me directly and nodded.
I sensed that I was starting to break the ice a little. I asked Sam if he could tell me of something that he really wanted. He said, ” I want a drivers licence and I want a job. But I think if I get a job ill be fired.” Little brother said, “WOW” mum just smiled like proud mothers do.
And slowly but surely Sam began to talk a little more. One time we were talking about recreation and Mum was telling me how he liked War Craft. “It’s not War Craft” said Sam, “It’s War Hammer.” He then whispered something in his mum’s ear. “What was that?”, I asked, “The captioner didn’t hear you” Sam obliged to share, “I like history”, he said.
He and I had a little conversation from there. It turned out he liked the history of war. We talked a little of different wars, WWI and II. He said he knew of the Korean war and Vietnam too. Just for that minute or so he spoke directly to me and not at his feet. Little brother exclaimed that he never got on the XBox cos Sam was always playing his war games. I said, “Do you know your caps on the wrong way?” Sam let out a little chortle.
And you know, sometimes when we have clients like Sam we always tend to talk through their carers. We do this because we are time hungry. We do it because we think it will be easier. We often forget the person that it is all about. But sometimes if you make a little effort it is worth it.
As the meeting came to an end I led the family back to the lobby to say good bye. I shook every ones hand. Sam shook my hand while looking at his feet. Little brother ran back to the meeting room cos he forgot his cap. Mum thanked me and wished me a happy Xmas. As the family walked out of the office Sam looked back and gave me a little furtive wave and a small smile out of the corner of his mouth.
I smiled too. I think that was my Xmas present. Just a little reminder that the work we do sometimes can make a difference, no matter how small, on someones life.
Happy Xmas everyone!