EXPECTING LIFE

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

TARD WRANGLIN

I should explain, a bit, what I do for a living. My official title is Staff Supervisor and Program Director of (house name) project. That means I am in charge of a house of mentally disabled and mentally retarded adults, and the staff that cares for them. My function is to oversee program, and make sure they are cared for medically and nutritionally. As far as the state is concerned, that is all.

Of course, these aren't plants we are working with: they need more than just what is required to grow. We also staff events, and make sure they are having a generally good time. I took them camping and to Fargo Halloween shopping in this last quarter, and we have movie nights, dances, meet and greets, etc every week.

I also implemented a work out routine, to make sure they get some damned exercise. As a result, one of my clients has lost over 30 pounds in the past 6 months. I am as proud of that as I am of anything I have ever done. Ever.

So does it sound like I am tooting my own horn? Damn right. And I do this as a sort of affirmation, because I have to deal with an overbearing mother who has the wrong idea about her son, his capability, and the level of staff competence, mostly directed at me. She makes it very personal.

See, he son has a functional IQ around 45. That is very low. For her credit, she has him functioning MUCH higher than tests would indicate, and it makes my staff's job a lot easier. However, he functions as an automatron. He is NOT thinking about the processes, he is just performing them. That means if the process breaks down, he does not think of a solution, he does not report the breakdown, and he does not care about it. Basically, he is a dog who has been taught to fetch. So what people see, in passing, and what his mother wants to see, is his high level of daily functioning. What my staff sees, and what is more accurate, is an uncaring, unforgiving routine that does not allow for human growth or interaction. And one that is now, after 45 years, starting to fail, and demesia and tardive dykonesia start to take over. The result is a daily struggle to help him function, all the while having his mother telling us how he ought to be functioning.

And the larger issue here is that he is a dick. Most people who just read that sentence will be shocked. Yes, mentally retarded people can be mean assholes. They aren't all cute and cuddly like Corky from Life goes on. In fact, most are pissed off at being treated that way. This client isn't, because he really does not understand his actions, but that doesn't stop him from being mean, all the time.

The big revelation here is that mentally retarded people are still people. The people who work with them like to think of them as something different, something that can be categorized. It's just not that easy. They are as varied and unique as functioning people. They are not peter pan, and they are not corky, they are a clever mix of what has happened in their lives. And they are still humans, and still (legally and in some cases emotionally) adults.

This all comes from a meeting where the mother put words into the clients mouth, and gave him excuse after excuse for his actions. I am a firm believer, in this venture and previously when program directing the scouts, in owning actions. I think if he was made to won those actions for the past forty years he wouldn't be such an uncaring prick. But she has told him how to feel and how to act so much, he does not feel or act on his own anymore. It is sad.

This is only related in that it is from a client(not the same one) But I wanted to write it out, to share it and reference it later. One of my other clients, who is much higher functioning and has a functional IQ just shy of 70, had a very candid conversation with me about his retardation. His is not medical, it is developmental, so it is, in my opinion, the saddest of all. It really could have been prevented, but now it is too late. Anyway, he is fully aware he is limited, and that people think of him that way. He has the desire to prove them wrong, but his body and mind betray him. He is very much aware that he is trapped in a situation that limits him, and that there is no end in sight. Yet, through all this, and as hard as it must be living with that, he is OK with it. He is happy to have staff and clients who care for him, and that he can do things for, and that will look up to him for advice (in the valley of the blind...) He feels more needed and accepted now. And he has a heart as big as anyone's.

So they aren't all shitty stories. I need to keep that in mind.

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