by Sarah de Visser
I remember back when I was little how scared I used to be of getting on and off the escalator. I was so afraid that with my child-like clumsiness (I haven’t completely lost that) I wouldn’t be able get on or off the belt quick enough for its continuous movement and I would go tumbling down. I remember each time I needed to use one I would have an adult with me to support me, or I would take a ridiculously large step or I would take a giant leap off, with my heart racing and adrenalin surging so that I could once again be on the safety of a still ground.
In someone else’s shoes…
Today, all grown up and working in my role as a support worker (in addition to nutrition and massage therapy), I re-experienced that exact same feeling but this time through a 20 year old individual with autism. We were about to hop onto one of these things, a flat version, when I turned around and saw her hesitating. Realising that she was feeling unsure whether she would be able to coordinate the movement of her legs in time with the movement of the belt, I went to hold her hand. Just as I had done myself all those years ago, she took one giant, wobbly step onto the belt and I had a to quickly hold out my arms to keep her stable so that she didn’t fall backwards.
As we came toward the other end I talked her through what she needed to do when we got to the end. Making sure that I was supporting her with my arms as she took another giant step, we had a mostly smooth exit from that continuously moving belt. Looking at me with a big cheesy grin on her face, I could read her mind and offered her encouragement. “You did so well!” And she did. Getting off that belt without a tumble or a fall was a complete success!
The contrasts of the life experience…
The reason why I’m sharing this with you is because for me it highlighted how differently life can be experienced from person to person. There are those of us who can live independently, who have our gross and fine motor skills intact, who can open our mouths and speak with words that other people in our community are able to easily understand and respond to. Then there are those of us who find these very things to be extremely challenging; for some communication is expressed through behaviour, some experience anxieties that those who are capable can’t even comprehend; for example, the fear of your wheelchair suddenly rolling backwards down a hill with you not having the movement in your arms and hands to be able stop yourself.
Many spend their lives struggling for inclusion and to be accepted for who they are, on top of trying to master everyday life skills that many others so easily take for granted.
Compassion, kindness and empathy, three powerful qualities that when expressed towards someone else, especially those who are dependant on others can make the journey, the life journey that is, that little bit easier.
I feel grateful that I get to see these qualities frequently expressed by strangers out in the community who genuinely want to help and support the person that I work with. While the person in question cannot verbally communicate her gratitude at the gesture of being provided – a free drink, or at the free ferry ride along Brisbane River provided by a kind ticketing officer who noticed how excited she got at the sight of boats out on the water, these kind gestures do not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Feeling included and like you are a valued member of society means that you feel like you belong, and that sense of belonging and connection is one of the greatest innate needs that we all share as part of the human condition. So much so that without it, our sense of wellbeing can plummet, taking our health into a downward spiral.
So to those strangers who, in that moment in time, took the time and energy to lift this person’s spirits or to make her day a little bit brighter I would like to say thank you, you have helped more than you know.
Sarah is a qualified Clinical Nutritionist and Massage Therapist with a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine) from Endeavour College of Natural Health and a Certificate IV in Massage Therapy with the Melbourne Institute of Massage Therapy. She is a registered member of Australian Natural Therapists Association (ANTA) and the Australian Association of Massage Therapy (AAMT). Sarah is currently completing her Graduate Diploma in Counselling with the Australian College of Applied Psychology. Sarah is passionate about promoting the mental health and wellbeing of her clients holistically and has a specialised interest in supporting families of children with special needs. Visit lovingwellness.com.au to find out more.