Not everybody that we encounter knows how to cope with Joshua or how to act around him. When he is out and about , now more than pre-lockdown, he is scanning for people all of the time; looking for someone to wave at, smile at or to give one of his thumbs ups to . He amazes me at his resilience : if he is ignored, he does not lose hope, but immediately begins to search for somebody else ,he never appears to be discouraged. I love it when he gets a response: some will stop to engage with him and ask him how he is and others nod and say ‘alright mate!’. Others look confused initially, then they get the game and reciprocate with a wave or thumbs up. I always thank them with a smile as I am grateful that they acknowledge my son. He seems to be particularly invisible to the under 25’s sadly, yet he craves their attention more than most – young ladies in particular!
I took Joshua to the local swimming pool yesterday and he was mesmerized by the young male lifeguards sitting high above him on a ladder/seat. Every time he passed them he would give them a wave or thumbs up, telling them ‘don’t mess!’ and they were kind enough to reciprocate most of the time. I warned them that they would tire of his game before he did, but many people humour him because they can see how happy their response makes him. They kept going for the full hour that we were in the pool.
Generally I find that the strangers who respond best to Joshua, feel some empathy or connection with his situation, perhaps they have a family member with special needs or they have worked in a special school or nursing home and they are keen to share this insight or use their special skills. This week we went to a stranger’s house as we were looking to possibly buy something from her and I had warned her that Joshua would be coming to the viewing too. As soon as we arrived at her house, she homed in on Joshua and held out her hand to shake his and introduce herself to him. It made me smile as she did not offer my husband or me the same handshake. Joshua rejected her outstretched hand but gave her a thumbs up instead. We were with her for about 15 minutes and as we were leaving, one of her dogs barked at me and she explained that she had inherited her brother’s dog. After a thoughtful silence, she then went on to elaborate that her brother had passed away and that he had been quadriplegic. It was then that her approach with Joshua made more sense, it gave it some context. She knew that it was important to acknowledge people with special needs and did her best to make sure that Joshua did not fade into the background.
I always felt that Joshua spending the first few years of his school life in mainstream school was of benefit to both him and his peers. They learnt that not everybody was the same, they were accepting of his differences and appeared to enjoy his company. I like to think that when they encounter someone with special needs later in their lives that Joshua’s ex-classmates will be more tolerant and that they might be more willing to interact with them. It would be helpful for every child to have this exposure from a young age, so that they are not as fearful, or judgmental, when they are older. There are still people who look terrified when they see Joshua, as though they are concerned that his condition could be contagious. There are those who find themselves staring; when Joshua was a toddler, many of his behaviours might have seemed cute but now that he is over 5 foot 10, he is a different proposition. He should not have to hide away or fade into the background – Joshua has as much right as the next person to be out and about in his community. In fact, most days he spreads real joy in his community and how many of us can honestly say that?