I can remember as early as age 7 being interested in special needs kids. We had an opportunity in elementary school to volunteer in their classroom. I have very fond memories throughout elementary and intermediate school of these people.
I can still remember all of their names and faces. I do not know what initially drew me to this group of people, maybe it is a God given gift but for me it has always been effortless. I do not think about it I just do it feels natural, it feels right and always has.
In high school I volunteered with Best Buddies, and organization that pairs you with a special needs student and hang out with them outside of school. This was a very rewarding experience because I was able to have my “Best Buddy” hang around not only me but all of my friends.
There were certain people I would do this with, usually the higher functioning ones with the ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. I think this is what most people miss and I missed at first.
Most people forget this, they look at those with disabilities as lesser than. The abortion rates in this country for Down syndrome are 90% and even higher in other parts of the world. If they do receive any attention, it is usually to be mocked. One thing I have always envied about those with intellectual disabilities is their perspective on life. These people have the same emotions that we all have yet I’ve never met even one who I would describe as depressed. The joy that these people express in everyday life, through ordinary activities is genuine and not something to mock, but rather something to strive for.
The ability to take any and all situations with the same mentality is a gift we could all use in life. Certainly some of this has to do with limited brain function in some, but in most I see it as a choice. Society as a whole may see them as different, and treat them as such but they are comfortable in their own skin and have accepted their fate. I have met people who cannot communicate verbally and have a limited mental capacity that still show a joy in life. A laugh, a smile, when life is the same every day with no sign of changing anytime soon, I do not know how anyone can be that positive in that situation. I know I would mope around all day blaming the world for birthing me with a disability that essentially took away any chance at a “normal” life.
Services are lacking, however support is growing. I understand not everyone is called to this kind of work, but treating a human being like a human being shouldn’t be considered work. Say hi when you walk past someone with a disability, start there. Make eye contact, a smile. Anything is better than nothing.
These people are human, they deserve and have the right to be in public places without being looked down upon. You would be surprised how much of a positive impact this can have on others. Everyone has emotions, everyone has thoughts and feelings, everyone wants companionship, and these people are no different. Working with all of these people has made me a better person. My perspective on my own life changes every time I am around them. Their optimism and outlook on life is truly contagious. To be honest I think I need them in my life more than they need me.
Who am I to complain about these small matters when I know people who get up every day and continue to fight a battle that seems to have no end? Their strength gives me strength, and it should give you strength too.