Here at Friends Life Community, a lot of our day programming emphasizes teaching life skills to our Friends—adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. A big part of that is teaching them mindful communication: listening and articulating emotions. When we break down the basics of how to treat someone, it reminds us of how elusive these simple, compassionate interactions can be.
You know that image of a person tapping their foot impatiently? It’s a classic stereotype used in movies, cartoons, and television to illustrate impatience. It usually involves firmly crossed arms, a stern look, a lot of hmph-ing and throat clearing, and, of course, foot tapping. Here at Friends Life, we sometimes encounter the real life counterparts from which this stereotypical image stems.
Take, for example, going out to eat. Most people take their ability to glance over a menu and make a decision for granted. But for many of our Friends, this isn’t an easy task. They are all at varying reading levels, and some of them need each item read to them. While some of them are excellent at money math, others need coaching. These extra steps take time—time that the person behind us, rushing through their lunch break, may not have.
Cue the foot tapping.
We’ve all been guilty of that impatience. Lunch breaks go by quickly; sometimes you’re rushing because of something outside of your control. But many of the Friends have heightened emotional responses. They feel things at such a root level. When they are hurt, it takes a significant amount of time for them to move past it. This is probably true for many of us, but the Friends can’t help but show it. So when someone in line behind them taps their foot or makes comments about how long they’ve been waiting, the Friends get very self-conscious. Which means they take even more time.
But this is what makes Friends Life Community so great. Our job, among other things, is to advocate for our Friends. We work hard to teach the Friends to speak up for themselves, but like all of us, they need help with that sometimes. And this provides an opportunity to show the Friends—and those in our community—the worth of everyone in the situation.
Whether it’s assuring someone at a new volunteer site that the Friends are capable of far more than someone might think, or asking someone to be patient while the Friends place an order, we are their advocates.
And, often, this is when the Friends become our teachers.