Have you ever seen a group of special needs adults in public? These groups usually have a few typical adults leading several other adults with special needs. While most people stare for a bit and then return their focus to the task at hand, those of us with special needs children pay careful attention and imagine. We imagine our children as adults and wonder if this will one day be their life.
My occasion for this type of imagining came on a summer day at Barnes and Noble. There to purchase a few books, the aroma of coffee and snacks drew me to the café, where I sat and embarked on my research. A few moments later a parade of people came into the café filling nearly every available table. I looked up and saw myself in the midst of special needs adults and their caretakers.
On this day, few people stared, which I learned later was a result of the group being Barnes and Noble regulars. My curiosity got the best of me, and I kept looking up to see how this all worked, wondering about the life my kids might have as adults.
An irresistible urge to smile came upon me as I watched several of the adults ordering their drinks and snacks, each one in their own distinct fashion. Some ordered in well managed cadences to insure the barista clearly understood the order, others needed the assistance of their caretaker, while still others found the process of ordering too stressful and walked away. As a parent of special needs kids, all of it was encouraging to me. These kids were doing their best out in public instead of staying hidden away and out of sight.
Having work to do, I dove back into my research only to have my attention captured by a young man I hadn’t noticed. He sat at his table with one specific caretaker. Eventually I figured out he wasn’t with the group but had his own individual helper.
Both he and his caretaker were sitting at the table, no drinks, no books, no magazines. The helper pulled out her phone and began chatting. The young man, who happened to have Down Syndrome, sat alone staring, seemingly mumbling to himself, which I eventually realized was the sound of a verbally challenged individual trying to communicate. He couldn’t speak but could make himself heard; however, he needed someone who knew how to listen. I felt sad for him and certain this was not how I wanted my children to live as adults, nor was it how I wanted this young man and his caretaker to experience their field trip.
As I reflected on what I saw that day, two things settled deep into my consciousness. The first was that I wanted much more for my kids when they became adults. Second, I wanted much more for every adult with special needs.
This experience happened ten years ago, and my kids are now adults. I have seen countless groups of special needs adults with caretakers since then.
My heart is always grateful for the caretakers; yes, even the young lady who pulled out the phone and chatted with her friend while ignoring the young man she was caring for. You see, he couldn’t speak, and she had no tools or training to help her communicate with or engage him, so they sat in silence. I think she was doing her best. I think the system let her down.
Most of all, I feel an emotional attachment to those adults and a desire to make their world better – to one day live in a world where there are “Adult Inclusion Centers,” places where adults with special needs can visit for relationships, play, exercise, and to continue their development as human beings.
These are my musings and thoughts, scattered but important. One day I am certain that motivated individuals, including parents, advocates, and philanthropists, will see all that is being done for young children with special needs, take pause and reflect, and then realize we are not doing nearly enough for the adults. “Adult Inclusion Centers” can rectify this problem.