When Toby moved, we lost him.  He had been regularly attending Special Gathering in DeLand for more than two years.  However, his group home closed.  He was moved to another suburb close by and he no longer worked at his local work program.  Toby is a high functioning man in his mid-forties.  Last week, we rejoiced to be able to find him again and he came back to our program.

After Special Gathering, he came up to me.  “I can’t go to camp this year.  I didn’t know about it.  Will that be all right with you?”

I was busy trying to get to the refreshment table because people had already begun to gather around waiting for their cookies and drink.  “Of course, that’s all right.  You couldn’t know.  That’s fine,”  I said while shoving a bag of popcorn into the microwave. 

As he got his plate for refreshments, Toby said,  “I REALLY wish I could go to camp but I didn’t know.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” I said and asked if he wanted diet or regular coke.

Several more times, Toby approached me about camp.  Finally, I got his message.  Toby was concerned about disappointing me.  Sure he loved camp.  Of course, it had been the highlight of his year but he had missed camp for two years now.  At first, I thought that his concern was missing the fun of camp; but after actually listening to what he was saying, I realized that his concerns were different, perhaps even deeper.

Our members have a great desire to gain the approval of people they perceive as important or influential.  It appeared that Toby was concerned that he was losing my approval if he didn’t attend camp.  The next time Toby came up to discuss his not attending camp, I said, “Toby, that really is all right.  I still love you and you can go next year.”

“Thank you,” Toby said as he trudged off to his Bible study class.  Toby didn’t come back to explain again.  Because I don’t always take into consideration how important Special Gathering is in the lives of our members, I sometimes forget that I may become the face of the program.  Like it or not, if you run a program for persons with intellectually disabilities, you have probably become an influential person in your members’ lives.  They desire your approval.

Sometimes a simple word will erase their anxieties and concern.  Taking the time to listen is important but acting on what we hear is equally important.