An exceptional young man

Charles was referred to rehabilitation by the local high school.  Special education was not a well developed field at the time.  The catalog of classifications used to explain why kids do not learn in school had not progressed much beyond Terman and Merrill’s work standardizing the Stanford-Binet.  The presenting impairment was seriously impaired mental functioning.

While the term exceptional is a perfectly appropriate reference in a politically correct era, it misses an equally important understanding of the kind of impairment that exists.  All handicapped individuals are exceptional in some ways, and explaining each handicap is a central ingredient in understanding, accepting, and accommodating the limitations.  Limitations in function are not assets which may be used as bargaining chips with the community at large, and certainly not with employers.

When the chips are down, an ability to perform the tasks at hand are what matter.  At the time the rough scale of mental functioning below borderline included mild, moderate, and severe mental retardation.  Charles was consistently measured at the severe level, a level which suggested extremely limited potential for any form of competitive employment.

However, Charles was exceptional with reference to his adaptation to the world and the other folks in it.  Thisexceptional refers to his skill sets conducting his personal affairs, dealing with other people, and his willingness to follow instructions with care.

The schools may well have performed in exemplary fashion through allowing Charles to absorb what he was capable of absorbing without treating him as an exception.  Charles did not feel like an exception.  He did not function like an exception, and except for an impoverished vocabulary, he would not be perceived by the man on the street as other than a little slow.

While the schools may have contributed substantially to Charles’ skills, Charles family was a model to follow.  Charles had three older siblings all of whom were average students.  His inability to make good grades in school was taken in stride by the family.  This impairment in school was not allowed to carry over into the family setting.  Charles and his older siblings all had regular chores to perform at home, to maintain the home, yard, and a favorable community perception.  The children all understood personal responsibility, were appropriately obedient and responsive, and understood the importance of each individual’s contribution.  Charles exceptional status, as an impairment, was not allowed as an excuse for poor performance in any way.  In this regard Charles was an outstanding exceptional student.

During the initial contact with Charles, he was delivered to the district office by a parent at the appointed time.  Charles entered the office by himself, was directed to the counselor by the office secretary, and presented himself appropriately.  His understanding was that we would help him select and find a job.  As the family lived only a few blocks from the office near the center of town, he came alone to subsequent office visits on time, and by himself.  From this pattern it was clear that Charles was interested in working, was responsible in showing up for appointments, and would likely be equally reliable on a job.

One of the jobs identified as appropriate was that of a hotel or motel bellman.  These duties were reviewed in some detail, and possible sites in town for employment identified.  Almost like clockwork, the town’s one high-rise hotel advertised for a bellman.

Because of the special circumstances involved, I talked to the hotel’s manager in person and explained the exceptional circumstances involved.  Because of my confidence that Charles would perform well, I simply asked if the manager would interview him like any other job applicant.  A day and time for a personal interview was arranged.

The appointment for the interview was given to Charles and his family for them to follow-up as appropriate.  On the day and time for the interview, Charles father had him appropriately dressed, loaded into the car, and delivered to the hotel.  On parking in front of the hotel Charles refused to get out of the car.  According to the father, a substantial period of time passed before he was able to convince Charles that this was all just a part of the usual process, and that it would be not much different from going to school.

After a considerable period of discussion, Charles overcame his fear, got out of the car, went into the hotel, was interviewed by the manager, and was hired without any question.  Charles proved to be a capable and reliable bellman for the hotel, and was never involved in a circumstance he was unable to deal with effectively.

To this point, the story unfolded almost like a fairy tale, thanks predominantly to Charles family.  After several months working at the hotel, I received a call from Charles at the district office.  He was interested in applying for another job working as a kitchen helper in a local hospital near his home.  His concern was not whether he would qualify for the job, but wondered if it would be OK for him to hold two jobs.  The work hours did not conflict with each other, and he said it was OK with his family.

As unlikely as it seemed, Charles was soon working two jobs successfully.  He walked from home to both jobs, ate most meals at work, and lived at home free of charge.  At this point it seemed he was no longer the same person who earlier refused to get out of the car for his first job interview.

While Charles was exceptional in many respects, his handicap faded imperceptibly into background.  Clearly his family was the key ingredient in his amazing success.

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