Not so long ago, after his ‘sojourn a casa’ courtesy of the Melbourne Covid 19 lockdown, my son Julian was reluctant to return to his disability day centre. Obsessively viewing YouTube at home, he had all the friends he needed in girls and guys starring in pretend heists and encounters with swamp monsters and other creatures of the deep and the not so deep. Sure, he enjoyed reconnecting with real people and physical activity at his program but after a couple of weeks back, he baulked at the morning routine of leaving the house for a day away from his computer. Hay fever was a good excuse. Pointing at his nose and making a fake cough, he would politely decline to go. That was his choice. What right did I have to challenge him?
His doctor said that most people have times when they feel reluctant to go to school, work or play, but if we give into that feeling, we miss out on outside stimulation and connectedness. We risk losing sight of the things that give us skills and social feedback and a sense of who we are in relation to others.
I readied myself for the next time Julian said he didn’t want to go to his day program. As a person with an intellectual disability he is helped with pictures and other markers that give him advance notice of events in his schedule. He needs to be reminded when things are coming up, the day before, and when he wakes up. I had him well prepared and Sunday night he said “yes” to going. Monday morning he changed his mind, pointing to his nose and doing the fake cough. I was ready. If he was too sick to go out, I explained, he would be too sick to go on his computer. I pointed out that I had work to do in my office and his dad had work to do in his bands and Julian’s work was going to his day program. He registered the seriousness of my tone, and the strength of my argument. He ordered me out of his room, but he didn’t turn off his computer. I reminded him that friend Dean would be looking forward to seeing him at the program. This - and breakfast - cheered him up. He went for the day, produced some Christmas craft, did some dancing with his friends and came home happy.
Friends are the best motivator. When Julian heard Dean was going on a People Outdoors Camp, he decided he would like to go as well. Luckily there was a spot available. He went happily, no coaxing required.
Friendship encouraged Julian’s dad and me to leave our Friday night couch. We had a good time seeing our friends in the band, Flying Home.