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The Hidden Reason I Felt Connected to the Disability Community

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I remember the first time someone with a developmental disability touched my life. It was lunch period in fourth grade. I remember talking to a girl at my lunch table, and we just clicked. We were 9. She became my best friend.

I didn’t learn more about what she lived through until we reunited in high school. We were now 16. She told me more about her: her life, her diagnosis, what she had been up to for the last several years, and we grew closer as time went on. I didn’t see her as having a disability. I just saw my friend, with whom I had a lot in common and I could talk to about anything.

While I was in college, my best friend moved to a group home setting. After hanging out with her there, I couldn’t help but admire how some of the staff treated her and her housemates, and realized I would like to work with people in a similar fashion. I began working in residential in 2004. I felt I had found my niche. I was quick to establish a rapport with the people with whom I worked, and they just seemed to get me. I found that people who lived with disabilities and had a lot of life experience were usually genuine and accepting of others.

After several years of working in the field, my life took a turning point. I learned that maybe part of the reason I clicked so well with my best friend in the first place, aside from the fact we could practically read each other’s minds, tell how the other was feeling, and could make each other laugh like it was going out of style, was because I knew what it felt like to live with a developmental disability too! I just hadn’t known I was a member of the community at the time. I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder Level I in 2014 — 10 whole years after I had begun my role as a direct support staff. Isn’t life interesting?

I now realize I have the gift of empathy for others with disabilities. I understand them because I see the world differently too. They have also taught me a lot about life. I’ve learned that it’s the people who have faced adversity, have had to jump over more hurdles than most, and perceive the world in their own unique way that are some of the kindest, most open-minded people you could ever meet. They’ve been there themselves, so they’re not quick to judge others. I’ve learned more about myself through working with every person I’ve encountered while working in the field. Everyone has a story. I can’t wait to see how my next chapter unfolds.

Getty image by Vasyl Dolmatov.

Originally published: December 12, 2018
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