Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Congruence in Faith and Action: Inclusivity in New Orleans

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Congruence in Faith and Action: Inclusivity in New Orleans

Article excerpt


EP recognizes that faith, religion, and spirituality can be as important a consideration and as integral a facet in the lives of exceptional families as healthcare, education, and the myriad of other topics that touch and involve EP readers. This article presents installment 10 in this multi-part series. *

Our church has a heart of mission. Yet, when the mission hits a situation that's personal and makes you squirm a bit, it becomes more of a challenge.

We have sent seven teams from our church to help the rebuilding in New Orleans. The first teams did the mucking, getting all of the belongings out of the house and putting them on the street. It was moldy to say the least. The next several trips found us hanging sheet rock, then taping, mudding, and sanding. There were the tillers, those who laid flooring, and those who did the finishing woodwork. Over the almost four past years, we have seen the progress from the work that we were asked to do.

We worked with the Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ Disaster Relief Organization, Habitat for Humanity, and most recently (for three of our trips) with the St. Bernard Project. Each of these organizations have sought to provide not only the materials and the labor for rebuilding, but also the presence of compassion to listen to the stories of those who have stayed or returned to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

Therefore, when a man who is a member of our church and is autistic wanted to go on our most recent mission trip to New Orleans, it presented a problem for some. I will call him Bob although that is not his real name. Bob is 41 years old, lives on his own in an apartment, buys his own groceries, and travels by himself around the country twice a month where he visits with friends and recycles aluminum cans and wire. He is rarely seen without a plastic bag carrying the cans he has crushed. I see him as one of America's "One Person Recyclers." He can memorize a bus, train or flight schedule in a flash and then figure out how to get from here to there. When asked if he wanted to listen to some jazz, he said he prefers Bach. He has perfect pitch and played timpani in high school, and he loves listening and watching dishwashers and washing machines, the serial numbers of which he knows and recites with predictability.

There are some things about Bob that are annoying, or at least make some people uncomfortable. He has a need to hold a hand, to put his head on a person's shoulder, to touch your arm frequently, and he has no awareness of "personal" space. As I learned from his case manager in a program in our town that is for persons who are developmentally disabled, the touch makes Bob comfortable and less anxious. There are no sexual connotations. He is benign. He has a sweet spirit. Bob's voice is very loud and although he understands everything people are saying, he talks in a group conversation in ways that do not follow the topic. Dialogues are minimal, although possible. He is energetic and outgoing. At the airport upon arrival after a flight, he runs to the baggage claim to watch the conveyor belt move.

What happened recently on our trip to New Orleans? It became clear at the first that Bob was not going to be treated like others on the trip. He made his own airplane reservation. He would not stay with us in the church where everyone would stay. He would have one meal with us during the week. Although almost all of us knew Bob from his constant presence at our church programs, it was not clear how he would do with the group in travel, lodging, and eating. In addition, it was unclear whether he could do the work that we would do, that is, rebuilding of homes that were damaged from Katrina.

Bob understands things. However, it is hard to tell whether or not he felt the emotional impact of his exclusion. It did not seem as if he did. A conversation with Bob is very direct, tangible, and short. …

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