I have spent the past 28 years working and “teaching” people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. I currently teach adults that live in the community to manage their own finances and avoid exploitation. However, over the years I have taught everything from brushing teeth to operating difficult machinery. I like to think I have touched many lives and instilled a bit of independence in each person throughout the years. Often times when I am teaching “non-disabled” people about people with Intellectual disabilities I stress the fact that they are able to learn…the difference is it will likely happen a bit slower. For this reason it may take years to see significant progress. But progress will be made. I have always enjoyed looking back on where a person started and acknowledging how far they have travelled.
I think it is hard to know if we made a difference in another person’s life. The first group of guys I started working with in 1986 have all died now and sadly I had not seen many of them since I moved out of state 15 years ago. Did they ever think about the things we did together? Did they remember the hours upon hours we trained together so they could ride the city bus independently? I don’t know and sadly I will never know.
However, I do know one of the reasons I have stuck around for all these years is because they taught me. The people in my care taught me that unconditional love is possible. Those that enjoyed arguing with me, taught me to choose my battles. The people that moved at a pace slower than mine, taught me to put my hands behind my back and wait for them to complete a task in their time. The people that asked me every few minutes what we would have for dinner, taught me patience. They all gained my respect and they all taught me what it meant to deserve respect.
My entire professional life I have been in the role of teacher, mentor, and coach. But the role I have cherished the most has been that of student!
This post was inspired by The Daily Post – Weekly Writing Challenge/ Student, Teacher