Friday, December 18, 2009

A Single File Existence

I guess I never paid attention to this before.

Back in 2006, I wrote about some adult group home residents that I saw at one of our local malls. I wrote about their walk through the mall – “I saw the two women in charge leading the slow-moving group, and the four clients trudging slowly behind, not seeming the least bit interested in their surroundings. They were in almost a single file line, and at the end of the line was Jack, working desperately to pull his underwear from his behind where it had apparently gotten ‘stuck’.

Then yesterday, while shopping at Walmart, I saw an older gentleman with Down Syndrome, probably in his 40’s, shopping with someone who appeared to be his mother. I’ve seen the two of them before out and about in some of the same neighborhood places I frequent. This gentleman followed his mother in single file through the store, and has done the same thing every time I see him.

Also yesterday, I drove past an apartment complex near my home, apartments where our local community service board assists adults with intellectual disabilities live as independently as possible. I often see some of the residents making their way to the Walgreens or the McDonalds on the corner. Every time I see them, no matter how large their group, they are walking in single file.

Why single file? Why not walking side by side, chatting, laughing or even arguing? Instead, their faces are frozen with no expressions – they never talk to each other – they just walk, one behind the other, to their destination and then back home again.

How did they learn this behavior? Is this what we have taught them is the only acceptable way to be a part of their community?

All this saddened me, and I plan to make sure my children know they don’t have to walk in single file. They can run and skip, they can link arms or hold hands, they can talk and laugh and yell sometimes. I don’t want my children, or for that matter, any other person with a disability, to have a single file life.

Today I am thankful for bold, quirky people. They make life so much more interesting.


k1 said...

I know for me personally when I'm out in an over stimulating place such as a store or city street, I generally follow the person or persons I am with- friends, family, etc. This is one of the only ways I can stay with the person, I can focus on their feet and follow or if that's too hard my service dog has been trained to follow whom ever we are with. It's a self preservation skill. If I want to be able to be social and engaging at our destination and get there safely without getting lost, I have to give on the route and for me that means I generally am not social and engaging on walks such as that. If I'm in the woods or bog with my friends and the dogs, then yes we walk side by side as that is a much less stimulating and stressful environment for me. But otherwise, it's me behind them. That's just my reason and how it works for me. It may be something similar for other people.

Erin said...

This has been one of the most interesting posts I have ever read. You are so right, and I wonder if it comes from those individuals leading such a "coddled" life in most instances? Everyone has always told them what to do along with the assumption that they haven't been able to do it themselves. The adults that I have worked with are the exact same way.

Jane said...

You hit another of my hot buttons with that single file business. Where in the world do we walk in single file except during elementary school? And why do they spend so much time on it??? HOURS are spent making the line straight and quiet, etc. All this to perfect a skill that becomes obsolete before they become teenagers!

I do not make my children walk in single file down the halls at school to get to my room. They skip, dance, walk backwards, flap (sigh...). I am rather well known at my school for my unruly groups of kids. BUT my principal laughs each time we go by and so far no one has been seriously hurt by our trips between their classrooms and my room.

I have a former student with Down Syndrome. He was a cancer survivor when I had him (Kindergarten) and now it is back (third grade). His hair is sparse, his color is pasty, his sparkle is not there. Word has it that he is now considered treatable but not curable and his teacher told me he'd received an email talking about "quality of life." That is the sad news. The good news is that he is THE. MOST. POPULAR. KID. in his class. Everyone loves him, and he loves everyone. His biggest desire each day is to be well enough to go to school and see his friends. Wow. I think we might be doing something right.

Adelaide Dupont said...

Hello K1, Erin and Jane!

When I was out on the wetlands a few weeks ago a group of 10 or 12 people with intellectual impairment (they are in a working group) were all laughing and giggling together, and in general being friends. They also walked in groups of two or three, at various paces. Some said "hi" to us when we said "hi".

We (that is my Papa and I) were the ones walking in single file, as the paths are sandy and stony, and big groups like that can often get in our way. Also there are dogs, of which we are both afraid.

Corrie Howe said...

This is a very interesting observation. I wonder if they are trained to walk this way or it is something they naturally do.

Marie said...

Why on earth is walking single file such a focus in schools? These are the same people that don't ever want to see a child playing alone because that's a red flag! ANnoying!

Aimee said...

I work in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. I too, have noticed this, and I try my best to avoid it. I usually end up somewhere in the middle of the pack, trying to keep everyone together. Part of it is that most of these facilities are painfully understaffed, or at least don't have enough staff to really allow the individuals we support to be as independent as they (or we) would like. I would like to echo what k1 said--many of the individuals I work with have a great deal of difficulty socializing and communicating anyways, and tend to have even more trouble in places like Walgreens or Walmart or anywhere big and overwhelming, even if it is a familiar location. Adding to this is that many of them are in their fifties--they grew up in a time when teaching someone with their disabilities social skills wasn't even part of the picture. Teaching those things to a child with autism is challenging; teaching them to a 45-year-old with autism who's never been expected or encouraged to socialize is incredibly difficult, especially when you're the only staff person who seems to think it's important. But god help me, I will find a way to do it...