Compete, survive, and reproduce. These are the three abilities linked to a species’ propensity to exist. Darwinian theory tells us that all species of living organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase an individual’s ability to survive. Living things evolve in tandem with what is happening in their environment, and in this way, we are all interconnected.
The COVID pandemic has created an atmosphere to revisit the theory of natural selection and ponder how human interference alters what would otherwise be left up to mother nature. At least it has for me, as I navigate my way through the nonprofit sector, helping organizations cope with what has been the largest interrupter of social services in my lifetime.
For three decades I have worked to advocate with, support and assist persons with developmental disabilities with their goals to gain independence and achieve self-determination. I have witnessed countless acts of discrimination, heard too many stories about bullying and have shed tears on multiple occasions when the inequality and inequity tore me down.
This demographic is known for their love of routines as change does not come easy to the many folks I have worked with, especially those diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In fact, resistance to change was typically one of the main reasons attributed to behavioral challenges I have experienced along the way. Developing ways to slowly and safely integrate change became a primary focus of the consultant work I do now.
Riddle me this…how is it that a population of folks who inherently struggle with change and disruptions in routines have instead experienced a seamless transition to adhering to CDC guidelines for social distancing, mask-wearing and sanitation methods? I am hearing story after story of how resilient this demographic has been, and how their penchant to cooperate has been a welcomed surprise during a year when other challenges just keep coming.
Christy Brown, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and the CEO of PlacementWorks, a job placement agency for persons with disabilities located in St. Petersburg, Florida stated, “Daily I am blown away by the resilience and grit of the clients I work with, their physical and developmental challenges have not prevented them from wanting to work and contribute even though many of their routines have been flipped upside down.” Christy also commented that some of her clients are experiencing the same kind of anxiety and depression issues inherent of this level of a global health crisis, but she is not seeing an uptick in complaints from employers due to behavioral issues stemming from non-compliance. Just the opposite actually, Christy is getting calls from multiple employers who are impressed with her client’s work ethic and buoyancy, stating what she says she already knew, “When you hire someone with a disability and give them a chance, you will likely be hiring your most loyal and most hardworking employee ever!”
Tony Lesenskyj, a dad of someone with ASD and the Founder and Chairperson of WE MAKE’s Board of Directors, an organization in Pennington, New Jersey that hires persons with autism states “the one thing I can say for certain is that the staff members at WE MAKE want to work, they want to bring home a paycheck and they want to feel relevant. Adapting to the new CDC guidelines was not difficult for our “special” employees, we rolled out the new procedures and then we rolled up our sleeves and got to work!”
How is it that there is still a percentage of people in America who are resisting mask-wearing, and are refusing to follow recommendations from our country’s top scientists and doctors? This unprecedented resistance is placing vulnerable people at risk and exhibiting and contributing to anti-evolutionary behavior. It’s the opposite of altruism, and it sets an awful example for our children.
There have been many times throughout my career where I have learned life lessons from persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities. I now “cry happy” when there’s reason to celebrate. I make sure I don’t sweat the small stuff and I seek out opportunities to share a funny story and some laughter whenever possible. If COVID is teaching us anything, it is showing us that change is possible, even when it’s not palatable, and even for those of us who have the most difficulty with adaptation.
At the Re-Activate Your Life website we are collecting empowerment stories related to COVID-19, especially if they involve the nonprofit sector or any frontline service work. We’d love to hear from you! https://re-activateyourlife.com/
If you are interested in supporting the great work of PlacementWorks or WE MAKE, you can make a tax-deductible contribution at the following links: https://placementworks.org/