My son, Liam, is a young adult with autism and intellectual disability. He is verbal, but is challenged by both receptive and expressive language and needs more time to process language when he communicates.
I have always encouraged Liam to be as independent as possible while providing support and assistance when needed. One of the skills he has been working on diligently is ordering his own meal – whether that is at a sit-down restaurant or a place where we are ordering food to go.
I am always curious as to how people will choose to interact with him. If it is a place we don’t go to often, I will usually tell the person taking the order that he will be communicating his order, but if they don’t understand or need clarification, I will assist if needed. This is the initial moment in which I find out if people are attuned to serving people who may need some extra help and patience. If they look at me in confusion, I simply smile politely and allow Liam to start his order. The reactions have varied from people looking like “ohhhhh, now I get it,” to “wait, what?!”
I really love when someone doesn’t understand or needs to clarify what Liam said and they look directly at him and ask him the question before they look to me for assistance. This is so supportive and validating for him! I can tell how empowered and confident he feels at that moment. That confidence builds up and gives him the ability to keep stepping out of his own comfort zone time and again when he is out interacting in the community.
Another huge win is when Liam is done ordering and the person taking his order gives him a big smile and tells him it was a pleasure serving him. He stands up straighter, smiles bigger, and looks so proud of himself. Those people get an extra tip from me because they take the time to care. To see Liam as a human being. To see him as capable with a little support. To invest in his growth and learning.
Learn, Understand, Accept
It’s so easy in our world to reinforce learned helplessness and to assume that people who are different from us are just not capable. That they are unable to learn and grow. That we don’t have time for the “extra” they need. It is so easy to look past them, especially as adults, and look to the person who is with them and, in doing so, dismiss them. What we don’t understand is that in dismissing them, we lose out – we lose out on being a blessing and receiving a blessing. There is no greater way to invite hope and joy into our lives than in being a source of encouragement, support, and hope to others. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to try it out and see what happens. There is not a shortage of people in our world that need us to be kind, compassionate, and encouraging, but there is a shortage of people willing to make a difference. Will you make a difference in the life of someone who needs it today?