Starting about a month ago, I began taking Janey down to the cellar with me while I do laundry. This was partly out of the desperation of looking for activities within the house we could do. To keep Janey interested, I told her she was going to do the laundry all by herself.
Of course, I didn't really expect her to do the laundry, but that first time, I led her through the steps. And as so often happens, she surprised the heck out of me. First I told her we needed to clean the lint screen in the dryer. She immediately pulled it out, cleared the lint, threw it away and put the screen back. I think she had maybe seen me do that once, years before. Then we took out the dry clothes, and she tossed them in the basket. I put the wet clothes on the dryer door, and she pushed them all in. Then I told her to close the door, which she did. The door to the dryer always needs an extra push to stay closed, and she, without me telling her to, gave it that extra push. Just to see what happened, I told her to turn the timer and turn on the dryer. I had to help a little with the timer, although she knew right where it was and the direction to turn it. I had to help not at all with turning the dryer on, even though that involves pushing on another dial that doesn't look like a button.
Then the wash---she tossed in the clothes I gave her. I poured the detergent in the cap, and she confidently pulled out the detergent holder. I gave her the cap and she poured the detergent in without spilling, and shut the lid. I wasn't even that surprised when I told her to start the washer, which involves pushing two different buttons in the order. Absolutely right, first try.
The whole laundry routine, along with other areas where I've lately been observing Janey's level of competence, has made me think a lot about something. I was reading something a few weeks ago which mentioned a family with a child with intellectual disabilities. Instinctively, I thought to myself "Wow. That must be tough" And then I realized what I thought. Because, of course, our family falls into the same category as that family. Or I would have said so, for many years.
I realized after that reading and thought that I no longer think of Janey as intellectually disabled. I'm not living in a dream world. I know that she would and has scored extremely low on IQ tests, that by any academic standard you threw at her, she is in the severely intellectually disabled category. But that's not how I think of her. I think of her as...well, Janey. I think of her as a person with strengths and weakness. I think of her, often, as a bit of a mystery. I can't say what's in her head, but the little hints she gives us make me think there's much going on there, much we are not privy to.
I'm not saying this to tell anyone else what they should think, about Janey or more, about their own children. It took me 16 years to get to this way of thinking. I would hear about and agree with the idea of assuming competence, but I didn't truly mentally buy into it. I don't know if I still would word what I feel just that way. I would say more...we don't know. We don't know what Janey knows, what she thinks, what she's capable. But actually, when I think about it, that results in kind of the same thing. We don't know what she can do, so we need to give her a chance to show us. We need to keep in mind she's always watching us and listening to us. She must have observed the heck out of me doing laundry, at the very least, and I'm quite sure there are hundreds of other routines and ideas and conversations she's much more aware of that is visible at first glance.
I've got some more thoughts on this subject, and on other surprise ways Janey has shown us what she knows. I'm still planning on a blog entry da day for this week, so stay tuned for more tomorrow!