Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Woman Who Kicked- Opportunity Lost

Today on the bus I saw a young woman with some type of intellectual disability on the bus. She was traveling with a middle-aged woman, who was sitting across from her. I do not know if this woman was a staff member of some institution, or family. And there were two things that concerned me.
First, the woman with the disability was kicking a boy in the aisle, and when he moved away, she started kicking her escort. It is the type of behavior I might expect from Ricki if she had not had her Concerta dose in the morning, and if no limits were placed on her. The escort said to her “stop it” one or twice, and then started kicking back as the kicking continued. It seemed to me that this behavior was not a new one (there was no concern or surprise on the escort’s face). Thus several questions arose: Could this lady have ADHD and need medication? Had it been checked out? Was the parent/staff aware that there are better ways to alter behavior than kicking back? I wanted to suggest to the middle-aged woman that she call me (I would not discuss the young woman in front of her), but I had no pen to write her a note. I usually carry a pen, but hadn’t today. It was an opportunity lost.
The second thing that upset me was that this young petite woman was wearing a colorful flowered skirt and pink sandals…. the type of clothes one would expect on a fourth grader, and not on a thirty year old. Why? Was this the choice of the woman herself, or her parents? And if it was her choice, was her family encouraging it?
Ricki also has a dress that is SLIGHTLY beneath her age, but it is still “OK”. (Although her brothers say it is not “OK”.) Whenever she wears it, I cringe. If I would let her, she would wear it every single day. So I let her wear it occasionally at home. And rarely outside. (When I don’t want her to wear it, I hide it, so that I will not be forbidding her choice, but only circumventing it.) But in general, I encourage her to dress as her friends do. I tell her “This is mature” about things I want to encourage.

The question I have is, how do we gauge the correct balance between giving a teen or adult with intellectual disabilities the right to choose their own clothing and hairstyles, and when do we step in (or not step in) and say, “No, that is not fitting for you” when explanations and teaching appropriate behavior are not (yet?) working?

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