When you first hear about Rick, you will likely hear all sorts of good things about him.

“He knows what he wants – he’s a definite kind of guy.”

“He’s a good traveler by road and train.”

“He’s a thoughtful, observant guy, easy going and kind.”

In fact, last September, that’s how a group of Rick’s family members and friends described him to others, all of whom gathered to think about his future.

With that lovely description as a foundation, now we were ready to meet Rick in a place that let us see him. No one mentioned the disability he experiences, any so called “deficits.” Although having autism is a simple fact – some might consider it a problem, others might consider it an attribute – it does not define this young man with so much possibility laid out in front of him. Instead, we looked to the qualities that matter the most in thinking about someone’s full life, even someone’s calling. The way that people who know and care about Rick created such a powerful interpretation of him to the rest of us meeting him for the first time, that we were all able to envision him easily as the entrepreneur running a juice stand, a skier, a gamer, a bachelor chef,  a tech-savvy man who is an excellent communicator.

At the close of the process, one of the circle members noted that this successful planning process was embedded in Rick’s family and friends interpreting him so well to others present. There is a powerful role for each of us walking with people with disability to contribute to this process of interpretation – others look to those of us next to people with disabilities as guides, and when we say positive things in respectful ways, it puts good things into the minds of others about the person, and maybe about all people with disability. What a powerful lesson Rick’s family and friends taught us.