GROW Community

Everywhere I Go I Am An Ambassador

Alethea Mshar
Special needs mom and Blogger
11/29/18  3:03 PM PST

This weekend I took my little guy, Ben (he’s twelve), to the Fall Fest in our local small town. When we boarded the hayride and sat down, Ben introduced himself to the woman sitting across from him. Names are important to Ben, who has Down syndrome and autism. He offers his name to everyone he encounters, and wants to learn the names of those with whom he interacts. The family on the hayride was happy to make the introductions and make small talk. We enjoyed a fun ride together. On this occasion, my role was simple, pretty much that of any mother.

After the Fall Fest, we made a quick stop at the supermarket. Ben requested an introduction to each person we met in each aisle.  As a card-carrying introvert, a trip to the grocery store means finding the items on my list, paying and leaving. Unnecessary interactions are avoided, with only occasional exceptions. Going with Ben changes that, it means introducing him to his world and his world to him. I know that whenever and wherever I go with him, I’m an ambassador.

Not only does Ben have cute little quirks, like his quest to learn the name of each person he meets, he also has little or no sense of personal space or who is a stranger. His combination of sensory processing and social challenges along with his intellectual disability mean that outings can lead to any number of scenarios (like meltdowns or sitting on the lap of a stranger), which the general public might struggle to understand. We use social stories to prepare him for outings, but even with the advance preparation, he needs direction and intervention.

It might seem counterintuitive to bring him to the store with me or take him on outings since it can be such a challenge. However, that is exactly the point. There is no other way to learn community living skills than to go out into the community.

Ben must go out and face his world. He must have encounters with strangers in busy places with stimulation he doesn’t always process properly. How will he learn how to navigate social interactions and busy places if he doesn’t have the chance to experience them? Ben wants and needs to grow up to be a member of his community, and one of my jobs as his mother is to equip him to do so.

Thus, even when he melts down and the grocery cart is left in the middle of the aisle because the outing was too much; even when he hugs and pats the butt of a twenty-something guy in the checkout; even when I’m tired and my patience is running thin, I serve as an ambassador. Though at times I would like to just hang it up, or sink into the floor, I know that my child deserves and needs me to keep my perspective. When I remember on each outing that the goal isn’t success today, but rather to add layers of learning and experience to his life which will bring slow and steady cumulative success it helps me to step out of the moment and into the big picture. Viewing myself as an ambassador for my child aids me, him, and everyone around us to include him in the community, and that benefits us all.


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