A few days ago, I received this email from my friend Stacey (reprinted here with permission):
Hi Lisa, I’d like to get your feedback on something that happened today.I’m working from home today and it’s a beautiful day here so I decided to walk to pick Tiven up at school. Near the school, standing near the driveway of a grocery store, was a young Asian man with Down syndrome. I’ve noticed that the older I get the younger other people seem, so who knows how old he really was, but my impression was he was probably a teenager. I didn’t recognize him as I do recognize many other people in our neighborhood, but he seemed lost and confused, so I said, “Hi!” as I passed. He turned and shuffled away.About forty minutes later, Tiven & I were walking back the same way and I saw him again, standing in the same place, still looking lost but now also scared. He was wringing his hands and flicking his tongue in & out. I noticed that he was watching the cars go by like he expected someone he knew to be pulling up. As we passed, I said, “Hi, are you OK?” and he shuffled away. I stopped a little way down the block and watched him. If he was lost, I wanted to be able to help, but how could I help if he shuffled away when I spoke to him? We’ve taught Tiven that, if she’s ever lost, to stay where she is so we can find her, but we’ve also taught her to look for someone “safer” such as a uniformed police officer or a mom with children with a cell phone who can call for help. I got out my cell phone and Tiven & I walked past him again, I tried to speak to him again, and he shuffled away again, but came right back to the same spot when we walked away.A block away there is a police station that we often pass on our way to & from school. I decided to go in and tell them about the young man I saw. I told them what had happened, described his clothing & appearance, and I said he’s not dangerous, he just seems lost & scared. I said I’d tried to help but he might need someone else like a uniformed officer. The cop looked at me quizzically, and I could tell he was thinking, “Why would some teenaged boy on the street need our help if he isn’t causing any trouble?” And then I said it. “He has Down syndrome.” And I felt guilty about that. Why did I need to feel guilty about giving the cop a useful piece of information? I don’t think he needed help because of his having Down syndrome, but because he seemed to be alone and scared out on the street for quite a long time, and because he didn’t recognize that I was willing to help. He seemed like he wanted help but he either didn’t know how to express it, or he didn’t know if it was OK to accept help, if that makes sense. For all I know, he was just waiting for his mom to finish her grocery shopping because he didn’t want to go inside on such a beautiful day!Now I’m sitting here crying about this. I hope he’s OK but I also really hope that I didn’t make matters worse by asking the cops to check on him. I’m thinking about Finn being a teenager, perhaps lost in the city on one of your visits here, and I wonder if I did the right thing or not.Stacey
I responded to her that I think she absolutely did the right thing – exactly what I hope someone would do if it were Finn – and that I think the fact that the young man appeared to have Down syndrome was absolutely relevant information.
And it got me thinking: what would most people be inclined to do in such a situation? I guess on the one hand I want to say that really, it’s not Down syndrome-specific, or even disability-specific; it would be nice to think that a person would look out for someone who appeared to be in need regardless of disability, etc. I know that the reality is, however, that very often, people just don’t want to get involved (I’m guilty of this, too). I wonder, though, if folks are generally more put off by someone who appears to have a disability – especially an intellectual disability.
What do you think?
Also, if you are the parent of a child with Down syndrome or another disability, how would you like to see a situation like that dealt with, especially if it were your child?