Sunday, February 9, 2014

Last week a staff member at Katie's house was fired for emotional abuse directed at Katie's roommate Amber and indirectly at Katie.  When I got the email telling me about this I felt sick to my stomach and then relived.  Sick to my stomach that anybody would abuse vulnerable women like Katie and Amber and then relieved that Katie was only indirectly affected, which probably doesn't win me any person of the year awards.

Amber is mostly a gentle soul except for once a month when she goes off the rails and tries to put her head through a window, or a wall, or flood the place.  The police and EMS are often involved. Katie is also a gentle soul who lives with a lot of anxiety which leaks out of her fingertips.  She tends to pull hair, pinch, slap, scratch, mostly other people but she also likes to have a go at herself as well.  When things are really bad, she bangs her head against the wall or the floor causing bruises or in some cases, open wounds.  Katie doesn't sound so bad, a little pinching or hair pulling but she can take me down to the ground if I'm not careful and she has. 

Both of these young women require constant monitoring so that they don't hurt themselves or others.  Amber can talk but mostly just repeats back what you say to her.  Katie can't speak at all but does have some limited sign language.  They are extremely vulnerable and I trust the agency who cares for them.  When the abuse came to light, the staff was immediately fired. 

Combined with this incident was a recent post on Elizabeth's blog in which she wrote about what Sophie knows, or doesn't know.  I don't really know what Katie knows or doesn't know either.  I can tell how she feels by her body language and the expressions on her face but what she understands is often a mystery to me.  I can tell you though that Katie is far more perceptive than most people give her credit for.  The post and the firing got me to thinking about Katie and about all disabled people and about why they matter. 

Why My Daughter Matters

I have three children, Katie is my youngest child.  Katie is severely disabled, or handicapped or delayed or whatever the politically correct phrase du jour is.  She is twenty-one years old and functions at the level of about a two or three year old child. 

My daughter doesn't work, doesn't pay taxes, doesn't read or write and doesn't talk.  She won't marry or have children.  She won't go to University or become a scientist.  She won't develop a cure for anything.  She won't write poetry or prose for that matter.  She doesn't shop, doesn't consume, except for the basics.  She doesn't own a car or drive.  She wields no power.  By all accounts she is an utter failure in our society.

"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." ~ Mahatma Ghandi

My daughter matters because she is here and because she is a human being.  Katie allows  me, allows all of us, to be better people than we might otherwise be.  She allows us to stop and be kind to someone without any expectation of repayment.  She shows us that different is not worse, it's just different.  Her laugh, her smile, show us that life can be enjoyed without all of things that we think we must have. 

She reminds us that life is not about the things but about the people in our life.  She couldn't care less what you're wearing, or rather, who you're wearing.  She doesn't judge you by what you look like, she wants to know how you'll treat her.  She is cautious.  I believe that a part of her understands how vulnerable she is and she is careful.  If you are gentle with Katie, patient, kind, you will reap the rewards of her smiles and her laughter.  To hear Katie laugh, to see her smile, trust me, is truly a gift. 

To have Katie in my life has been a gift, a hard gift it is true, but a gift.  I am a better person for having known her.  I am more compassionate, kinder, more patient (which is hard to believe because I am not the most patient person) and stronger.  When you walk through a mall with Katie, people know her by name, even though she can't talk.  They remember her smile, her outstretched hand waiting for a handshake.  Katie makes people's lives better because she is here, not because of anything else than who she is.  She matters.


  1. I am glad that the staff member was let go. There are no second chances when it comes to our most vulnerable.

    And you words about Katie are so beautiful and heartfelt. More of us need people like Katie on our lives.

  2. I work with autistic children. I have learned more from them than in the five years I've been with this clinic than in all my previous ones, including all of my medical training. They are here for a reason and I can tell within the first five minutes of meeting them what their home life is like simply from their body and facial language. How anyone could ever hurt such a vulnerable child as your Katie is inconceivable to me. I am so sorry that this happened.

  3. Thank you for this - you've articulated so beautifully what we DO know.

    And I'm sorry to hear about the abusive attendant -- how horrible. I am glad, though, that this place is so on top of things and that you trust them with your beautiful daughter.

  4. Deb, my partner and I ran about a dozen community residences much like the one where Katie lives. So good to know swift action was taken: it has to be

    Once we had a young man from
    Ireland who was one of our house managers. He was kind , caring, smart. He was the kind of guy you could trust. One day a client came charging at him and he instinctively swung back. We had to fire him. He and we felt terrible but it had to be that way


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