I had several friends who had amazingly gifted children.  But they weren’t good students in school.  At times their mothers would come to me for solace and advice.  I would tell them, “Just get your child out of school.  Do everything you can to help him graduate from high school.  He’ll be fine once he is out of the school system.”

As the young men and women graduated and then began to succeed in their chosen careers, more than one mother came back and said, “I didn’t think so at the time but you were right.”

Too often, children aren’t able to succeed within the school system for a variety of reasons.  However, that doesn’t mean they are stupid.  Howie was a pretty obnoxious man with Downs Syndrome who attended Special Gathering, a ministry within the mentally challenged community, when I became a staff member.  However, Howie taught me a great many things about our sub-culture.  I’ve always been grateful to him for those cultural lessons.

One day, Howie called me.  He was so upset his voice was shaking.  He had gone to McDonald’s for dinner.  Some teenage boys were there and they proceeded to poke fun of him.  Howie took it as long as he could and then he walked over to their table.  He said, “I may be retarded but I’m not stupid or unkind.  I understand what you are saying and I don’t like it.  You, boys, may not be retarded but you are stupid and unkind.”

While our members may not have a high  IQ (Intellectual Quotient).  That doesn’t mean that they are stupid.  Most of them garner high points in other areas.  I’ve broken these down into three catagories:  SS (Street Smarts); CQ (Cunning Quotient) and WQ (Wisdom Quotient).

Street Smarts is the ability to survive in the most adverse situations.  Many people who are developmentally disabled I’ve met can outsmart the most street-wise individual in New York City.   While SS helps with survival, it’s not always attractive.   Carrie loves getting attention.  When she speaks she cannot be understood by anyone, even her parents.  Whenever we attend self-advocacy conferences, Carrie doesn’t let that fact stop her from joining in and even monopolizing the discussions.  Carrie has enough street smarts to know that under those circumstances, she won’t be interrupted or asked to sit down even though no one can understand her. 

Cunning Quotient is the ability to get your way even though the deck is stacked against you.  This ability is often used by normal people while playing poker and other competitive games.  Saul is a member of Special Gathering who attends regularly.  He is a dedicated Christian with autistic tendencies.  I admit it.  I love Saul a lot.  He is kind and he goes out of his way to bless me with his prayers.

Saul knows that if he hangs back a little as all the other Sepcial Gathering members go to get their refreshments, he can quietly go through the alternate refreshment line that isn’t meant for Special Gathering members.  This line has a greater variety of goodies.  Saul knows that because no one else notices, I will pretend that I don’t see him; and I’ll let him get by with it.  Yep, I make an exception just because he is Saul, the person who never gives anyone any trouble or asks for any other special favors.  That’s cunning.

The Wisdom Quotient is, of course, the most godly of the abilities and Judy embodies this quality.  She is a wise young woman who sits quietly and prays while others vie for attention.  One Sunday, I had been hurried because everything had gone wrong.  My van had not been at the church when I needed it; and I had to arrange other transportation.  The sound system had not worked.  Most of my choir members were absent.  My husband was sick. 

As I fumbled trying to find my sermon for the morning, Judy reached over from the choir.  “I pray for you,” she whispered.  “Lord, Linda doesn’t want me to know it but she is really upset this morning.  Please help her as she preaches.”

I was shocked and humbled.  Wise Judy had seen my plight and she prayed for me.  Great wisdon in action.

In what ways have you seen your members show street smarts?  Cunning?  And wisdom? 

Shelly is a young woman in her early 30’s.  She is an avid writer.  Some of her articles appear in our monthly newsletter, Connecting Point.  Terry’s passion is kitchen duty.  Anything that involves dirty dishes or grimy pots and pans presents a welcome contest for her.  Steve is stingy to a fault but he loves unconditionally.  When his girlfriend became sick, rather than dropping her, he became even more devoted to her and her growing needs.  Larry’s girlfriend has been faithful for almost 20 year.  Larry can muster up faithfulness for about 20 minutes, if she is in the room. 

People within the mentally challenged community are sometimes lumped together as though they have one personality.  But they are individuals with individual needs and desires.

There are actually three personality types usually designated to our population.  The first is the congenial “Downs Forever Child.”  She is petite and wears an eternal smile.  Our Downs Forever Child (DFC) is compliant to a fault and loved by everyone.  She never gives anyone any trouble and is the perfect little person.

The second personality is similar to the DFC.  He is Forrest Gump (FG).  FG is tall and strong but shy and unable to effectively communicate with people but he is a sage with wisdom beyond his IQ.  He can be greatly misunderstood but things seem to happen for him that are wonderful because he is such a good, wise and kind person.  He is as gentle as a kitty cat and though people don’t understand him, in the end, everyone loves and admires him from afar.

 The third personality is the Mice Killer.  He was made famous by the book, Of Mice and Men.  MK is similar to Forrest Gump except he cannot control his emotions and therefore you never know when he might snap off the head of his pet mice or a pretty young woman he greatly admires. 

Like all stereotypes, none of them are real.  People with Downs can be cranky and stubborn.  Forrest Gump isn’t a great fountain of wisdom hidden in the body of a mentally challenged individual.  And our population is seldom involved in crime, mass murder or mayhem. 

The wonder of this population is that they are not phonies.  They don’t wear masks to hide their imperfections.  Henri Nouwen wrote about his experiences within the developmentally disabled community and in doing so, dared the church to become authentic in our relationship with the Lord.  We love to quote and read Henri Nouwen and his famous book, In the Name of Jesus.  However, there are a few people I know who dare to live the Nouwen experience.  There is a family in our community who opened a group home in their house.  As their corporation grew, young couples moved into the different group homes and became a part of the mentally challenged community 24 hours a day. 

And there are others.  We have many faithful volunteers who come and live four days out of the year within this exciting cloistered, sub-culture at our Camp/Retreat held once a year.  Usually they come from curiosity or concern.  Some teenagers come, dragged there by their parents.  But they almost always come back year after year.  They work and play and clean messes and receive abundant love.  They learn the rich variety of personalities within the mentally challenged community and they come back for more.

 Have you seen the great variety of personalities within this community?  Who are some of the most interesting people you have met?