Friday, November 4, 2005

Special Needs Mutual

Ruth and I have an odd calling, one that I’d never heard of before: we’re counselors for the special needs mutual. It’s exactly what it sounds like—once a week, all the special needs “youth” in the area get together to sing hymns and do activities and stuff, and we’re there to assist them.

Oddly enough, almost all the other counselors are teenagers; I think there are perhaps two other guys there who are out of high school, and both of them are still in college (though one of them is married, so I’m not a total oddball). I feel completely out of place. I’m somewhere between five and ten years older than most of the counselors, and I simply do not know how to relate to the special needs people.

We’re each supposed to be assigned to a specific person, though my guy, Steve, has only come twice that I’ve seen (I’ve missed a couple weeks, so it could be that he came when I wasn’t there). He’s middle-aged and doesn’t seem too terribly handicapped, but I just don’t know how to talk to him. I could blame my own introversion, but it doesn’t help that he doesn’t talk much, either—he usually just sits there quietly. How do you break the ice with a guy twice your age and half your IQ?

And so I sat there tonight, frustrated and uncomfortable, trying to help him with a crossword puzzle that seemed quite a bit beyond him. I noticed that some of the other special needs guys were writing out the answers with the help of their counselors. Was Steve upset that I was basically doing it myself while awkwardly trying to involve him? Did he even notice or care? I honestly have no idea.

My callings in the past have never been too terribly challenging. I suppose that this one isn’t really that hard, either, in the sense that it doesn’t really require much more than my being there, but it’s hard in a different sense. I don’t know how to overcome my own awkwardness and discomfort. I feel guilty for not knowing how to relate to them, for being slightly repulsed by the physical and mental defects and by the general poor hygiene. I feel guilty for the feeling of relief every week when mutual is over. I feel guilty for realizing that Homestar Runner talks a lot like some of these people.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is. It’s just one of those things that I’ve been wanting to get off my chest, to cast off into the weightless ether of the Internet.

So am I going to hell if I still find Homestar Runner funny?

Blog 3 Replies to “Special Needs Mutual”
Jonathon Owen


3 thoughts on “Special Needs Mutual

    Author’s gravatar

    I generally don’t have the awkwardness problem, but I do find myself trying to hide my intelligence while at mutual. Like yesterday, for instance. We were supposed to find something we were grateful for that started with each letter in Thanksgiving. I get to i. Not many things start with i, but intelligence does. Especially among these people, I am thankful for the health of my mind, the intelligence that allows me to learn and understand and write and make money doing it.

    But then I realize that if anyone knew what I’d written for i, they might feel offended or hurt because that’s something they don’t necessarily have to be grateful for.

    I wrote down ice cream instead. Then I came to the second i. Not being able to think of anything else, I finally scribbled down intelligence, hoping no one would ask about what I’d written. Immediately, seeing I was writing something, one of the special needs girls asked me what I’d put for the second i. I squirmed but told her.

    She replied, “Hm. I’m not intelligent.” Very matter-of-factly. I don’t think she was hurt, but I can’t be sure. I know I felt like a terrible person.

    I wonder if celebrities or politicians have similar qualms about visiting and serving the poor.

    Author’s gravatar

    I have a really hard time dealing with or relating to special needs people. I had to volunteer at a school for autistic children my first year at BYU and it was hell. I was assigned to this one boy and I could do nothing to help him. The whole time I was there every day, I feel unnatural and false. Ugh. Not the best time of my life.

    I really admire people who have the skill for helping those with special needs, but I guess I recognize that I possess a different skill set, so I can still respect myself.

    Author’s gravatar

    I have a couple of nieces with special needs. It’s easy, in that context, to believe that the way they are is something that will get better in the resurrection. It is easier when they are a relative to see the ways they are like me, and to see the parts of their personality that are not the disorder. Almost everyone has some kind of mental disorder these days, it seems.

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