Monday, February 22, 2010

Easier said than Done

I was purchasing about four items at the grocery store this evening, so I headed for the self-checkout area.  As I waited for the next opening, I noticed a man (about 30 years old), finish his transaction, pick up his bag and walk away.  I figured it was my turn until I heard the cashier for the area say, "Sir, sir, you still owe 49 cents."  The man came back to the check-out and looked in his bag as if he was going to return an item.

I was standing nearby and said, "Here's a dollar. I hate for you to have to return your groceries."

He looked at me very strangely and said, "I have a $20 bill, I just don't want to break it."

He started walking away, again without paying, and the cashier said, "Just give me your bag of groceries and you come back when you have the money."

The man walked away with his shoulders hunched and I said to the cashier, "Do you think he's mentally handicapped?"

He said, "Who knows and who cares."  He was clearly quite exasperated at this point.  I proceeded to check out my few items.  As I was leaving, the man reappeared with his money and paid the cashier.  We both walked to our cars.  I saw him get in his car and then get out again and go back into the store.  Who knows what happened next.

I bring this up tonight because I think there are a lot of people out there in the world who are doing okay but still have difficulty with some of the slightly more complicated transactions that are expected of them. Something like self-checkout seems fairly simple, but if you suffer from a condition where sensory overload creates panic or counting money is a big challenge, it's suddenly not so simple.  The man clearly was having trouble dealing with what was being asked of him.  He wasn't belligerent; he just couldn't deal.

I wonder how many times he has faced similar situations and just walked away rather than ask someone for help.  Probably a lot.  I hope he's okay.


  1. I hope he's OK, too. There is one advocacy group that designed cards for their handicapped children/young adults to carry to explain their disability to the police in case they are ever questioned or arrested. These people LOOK "normal" but sometimes react in bizarre ways under stressful circumstances. Their reactions can cause them to be completely misjudged. I like the idea of a card but don't know how they are supposed to remember to retrieve it when in adverse situations. . .

  2. I like the idea of a card. It would be interesting to see how others would react to the card. I'm not sure the cashier I was writing about would have been terribly sympathetic. Ironically, this particular grocery hires a lot of people with mental handicaps and they have been great employees for several years.