Thursday, March 26, 2009

i have something to say

Jacob is 7 years old. he has autism, and a myriad of other difficulties. he experiences the world in ways no one else seems to understand. every day, jacob takes these two trash bins, HIS trash bins, and walks them around his neighborhood as many times as he can fit in. he takes them both, never just one. as he walks around the rocky roads, one or the other will regularly tip off to the side. jacob stops, lifts it upright, and continues on his way. never angry or frustrated. he keeps walking. all around the neighborhood, quietly wheeling the bins behind him.

i was spending the afternoon with jacob today as his foster mom needed a break. i can't fully explain why, but this parade of his two bins was incredibly touching to me. to watch him treat them so tenderly, so carefully. as if they were his two children, left solely in his care. he was very committed to getting them out to see the neighborhood, pausing to watch the horses or squirrels or to look at a creek. around and around the neighborhood. after about two hours of walking with him, it began to rain. i'm not sure jacob noticed at all. i let him know we needed to head back to the house until the rain stopped, and offered to take charge of one bin for him. as i wheeled it toward the house, jacob's free hand never left the side of it, as if to be a backup spotter should it topple over. as we approached the driveway, jacob wheeled the bins to their resting place, gently putting each precisely where it belonged. as we walked into the front door, he glanced back, to be sure they were as they should be.

this child is the target of teasing, rejection, namecalling. he is labeled with horrific words like "retarded" and "unreachable." and yet i see in him a level of intimate humanity i've rarely found. there is so much left to learn about autism. so many unanswered questions. countless families who struggle to make it through each day, to find the right help for their children, to try and parent them with love in the midst of being completely burned out.
one thing i'm sure of, though, is that the greatest disservice we could do to these children and ourselves is to ignore them or write them off. for the last six years i've worked directly with foster kids with developmental disabilities like autism. it's sickening the way these children are tossed from one home to another, label after label written into their records. medications shoved into their systems. rarely does anyone spend time with them to see who they are, past the diagnoses, past the outbursts and embarrassing tantrums.

each of these children is, in fact, created by God. and not just by God, but in his very image. they're not the exception to that rule, you know.

later, hours after i'd left jacob, i noticed myself rushing around, trying to get things done just to check them off the list. i remembered the care with which jacob wheeled his bins. that he felt such responsibility for them, and took that seriously. and cliche as it may sound, this "unreachable" child most certainly reached me.


rebecca marie said...

there is a man like jacob in my neighborhood. he sweeps. all. day. every. day. he sweeps only the very front of his driveway, back and forth. all. day. you can just tell he is so proud of his job. whether he assigned it to himself, or someone gave him a task one day and he adopted it, i don't know, but it's very touching and we all look forward to waving to him as he sweeps.

also, i know you hate the word retarded, but i don't think it's horrific. if i call you a retard for not getting a joke, it's a misuse of a word that means, essentially, delay. he may not be retarded in his world, but he is retarded in the environment in which he was born.

i think that's the problem with the word. people who understand psychology, physiology, brain development, etc. (and i would challenge NO ONE DOES), are more comfortable using proper terms, but i don't think it's horrific to call someone "retarded" if you only mean that they are delayed within their environment.

breanna said...

RM, totally appreciate your comments. and i don't disagree with you about the use of the word "retarded" in the context of it's actual definition. what i hate about the word is the intention behind it 99% of the time it's used. we're not so far removed from when using the word retarded was accompanied by that thing where you hit the side of your hand on your chest and make grunting sounds. the intention isn't to say "this sweater is so delayed in it's environment." the intention is to make the correlation between the sweater and a stereotypical retarded person. i would argue that the majority of people couldn't tell you the actual meaning of retarded. most of the time it's used, it's absolutely derrogatory (or however you spell that) and demeaning to person's who HAVE mental retardation. which is a whole other issue for me, saying a person IS mentally retarded vs. the person HAS mental retardation. but i'll leave that for now.

rebecca marie said...

i guess that what i mean is that i personally don't think it's horrific to say that someone is retarded who has a form of mental retardation. i'm not saying it would be okay to say "i'm babysitting a retard today," of course that would be a problem.

but calling someone retarded or saying "you're a retard" or whatever, is clearly a problem....

that being said, we misuse words all the time as english speaking people. i remember when we had the debate soooo long ago on one of my blogs about the use of the word "gay." it went from meaning happy, to meaning homosexual, to meaning homosexual male, and now, it's commonly used to mean stupid.

i think people use the word retarded in the same way. and i don't find it offensive when referring to something, like your example of a sweater. is it couth or kind? probably not, but neither is a ton of what we say without any thought at all.

i found out yesterday that dumbells are called that because the (without telling the LONG word origin story) word "dumb," used to mean mute or silent. so should we call them mutebells?

i know that's extreme, but i'm just debating my side, which is the stance that we may not always use words appropriately, but the intent isn't always malicious and certainly not always ignorant.

GiGi~JB said...

The most important part of the lession here is we are all God's creations and flawed in some way by being human! The love, care, and concern of fellow beings should be our purpose in community. Why must we put others down to make us feel so much better about ourselves?!? But for the grace of God go you or I! I'm thankful for one and all. We are all here in whatever capacity for a reason. There is purpose in all life!

Nishant said...

i think that's the problem with the word. people who understand psychology, physiology, brain development, etc. (and i would challenge NO ONE DOES), are more comfortable using proper terms, but i don't think it's horrific to call someone "retarded" if you only mean that they are delayed within their environment.
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