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Andrew Pollock


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Saturday, 12 April 2014

Explaining "special needs"

I got one of those rare opportunities to calibrate Zoe's outlook on people on Friday. I feel pretty happy with the job I did.

Once we arrived at the New Farm Park ferry terminal, the girls wanted to have some morning tea, so we camped out in the terminal to have something to eat. Kim had had packed two poppers (aka "juice boxes") for Sarah so they both got to have one. Nice one, Kim!

Not long after we started morning tea, an older woman with some sort of presumably intellectual disability and her carer arrived to wait for a ferry. I have no idea what the disability was, but it presented as her being unable to speak. She'd repeatedly make a single grunting noise, and held her hands a bit funny, and would repeatedly stand up and walk in a circle, and try to rummage through the rubbish bin next to her. I exchanged a smile with her carer. The girls were a little bit wary of her because she acting strange. Sarah whispered something to me inquiring what was up with her. Zoe asked me to accompany her to the rubbish bin to dispose of her juice box.

I didn't feel like talking about the woman within her earshot, so I waited until they'd boarded their ferry, and we'd left the terminal before talking about the encounter. It also gave me a little bit of time to construct my explanation in my head.

I specifically wanted to avoid phrases like "something wrong" or "not right". For all I knew she could have had cerebral palsy, and had a perfectly good brain trapped inside a malfunctioning body.

So I explained that the woman had "special needs" and that people with special needs have bodies or brains that don't work the same way as us, and so just like little kids, they need an adult carer to take care of them so they don't hurt themselves or get lost. In the case of the woman we'd just seen, she needed a carer to make sure she didn't get lost or rummage through the rubbish bin.

That explanation seemed to go down pretty well, and that was the end of that. Maybe next time such circumstances permit, I'll try striking up a conversation with the carer.

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