Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Perceptions in disability

The other day I was waiting for a bus in the winter cold. I had one of those plastic shelters to sit in and it broke off the wind, but cold is cold. There was a young man walking toward the bus stop and he had a staggered gait that might make you think he was on drugs or drunk. Knowing the possibilities like I do, I realized there could be other reasons. Still, I hoped he wasn't on anything as I was about to sit with him in the bus stop.

He may have been 18, I'm not sure and he wore gloves with the fingers split and worn. His coat had a few holes in it and he sat and rocked slightly facing away from me. He turned toward me slightly and asked if I had the time. His voice showed the struggle to form words that told me he wasn't on drugs. He had a medical condition. The young man has cerebral palsy and meets the challenges of getting through each day with a physical disability.

We got to talking and he told me that he deals with a lot of people who either push him to hard or treat him like and infant. He often wishes they could see him for his critical mind (and he is pretty sharp, let me tell you) and let him set his own pace. When he learned that I'm actually a high functioning autistic his eyes lit up as he saw someone who understands.

Then he said something that I found interesting. He thought that I must be very fortunate that people cannot see my disabilities (as I do have more than autism) so openly. So I discussed this with him and mentioned that there are drawbacks to not being obvious. People have just as hard a time, if not harder, understanding disability that they cannot see. While he gets people who push too hard or treat him like and infant, we get people who feel sorry for us or don't believe us at all.

"So our frustrations really are very much the same," was his thought and realization. And indeed they are. But what we can do is important and can teach others a great deal about us. This young man likes to work on cars. I mentioned that the ones that treat him too much like a child, might be educated to learn how capable he really is. As for the impatient ones, all we can do is shake our head and keep forging forward.

Talking with him was an uplifting experience because we were both able to use some critical thinking, a good exercise for any day. And a normally boring bus ride became much more interesting.

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