On a recent trip to Foxwoods casino with Sam (not his real name) we encountered situations which caused Sam to question “why is he different?”
The trip was to attend bingo which he enjoys at his day program, we did not anticipate how he experienced sensory overload. He was unable to concentrate and focus due to many distractions such as the number of people, and the speed of the game. In his distress, Sam became fixated on the soda machine that was set behind us and repeatedly asked for soda. On one of his numerous trips to the soda machine, a gentleman who was sitting near us attempted to help him, upon his return Sam asked me, “Why did that man help me?” I responded by saying he was just being kind. Sam gave me this stare and said, “He could do it himself.”
I believe that he is at a stage where he is developing self-awareness, that he is different but lacks the theory of mind skills that help him understand what others may think and why they act as they do. He wants to fit in and be treated as a Neurotypical and not be “different”.
The question of “why” can’t be fully answered when the question is coming from the heartache of feeling different and alone.
I tried to explain to Sam that no one is truly perfect, we are all unique and special in our own way. You don’t need to fit in to feel good about yourself or to think you “belong”. You belong to yourself and that feeling is amazing. You never know what someone with a disability is capable of.
But, maybe by being different, Sam is here to help others to learn to be more tolerant, respectful, and kind. The man at the soda machine felt the desire to help someone in obvious distress and it made him feel good.
He then went on to say “How come I was treated differently at the doctor’s office”? He had a recent trip to the doctors, where the doctor was not including Sam in the conversation about his own body.
If the doctor had learned the same lesson about kindness, then maybe he would have included Sam in the conversation about his own body. He has intelligence, and as a human being deserves respect in an exam room. Sam sounds ready to self-advocate. He needs to be taught to speak up and say, “I am here, please speak to me doctor.”
Sam is different and he deserves the same respect afforded to anyone else. When he gets that respect then hopefully he will no longer feel different.