‘Dancing Sam’ an amazing teen

Many of you will have heard of Sam, the dancing Starbucks’ barista from Toronto.
He is a YouTube sensation, has appeared on “Ellen,” and made the CBC News, as well as news coverage around the globe.
He is an amazing young man. But the truth is he was an amazing young man before he gained celebrity status.
You see, Sam is 17 and he has autism.
But the story is a happy one. Sam, together with his Starbucks’ manager, created dance moves that would smooth out the jerky symptoms that autism inflicts on Sam’s body.
This dancing allows Sam to skillfully and competently prepare specialty coffee drinks. And in Sam’s words, this opportunity gave his life “real meaning.”
Isn’t that what we all want?
This story is an exceptional one, but should it be? Shouldn’t stories like this be the norm of the day; commonplace even?
We all want to contribute to life in some meaningful way and those who learn differently, or have different challenges, want the same things as everyone else—and those opportunities should be available wherever possible.
Sam and Chris Ali, Sam’s boss, met at Camp Thrive located in Shelburne, Ont. This camp helps young adults with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders develop skills and recognize talents they have in order for them to become contributing members of society.
To keep them from being pushed aside and considered a burden or helpless; to keep them from being forgotten.
Chris and Sam struck up an immediate friendship and Chris knew he had a place for Sam in his Toronto Starbucks’ store. The model used at Camp Thrive is a unique one and hopefully more of these opportunities will be created for people like Sam.
All too often, we gauge our value and the value of others by the norm, by the status quo; introverts expected to be extroverts, visual learners expected to learn from written instruction, and any number of the differences between us.
We all come in different packaging with unique inner workings, and that is the very beauty of us.
The number of children with autism spectrum disorder seems to be on the rise, though studies in Norway would argue that is not so. But as we look for causes and solutions, we still are faced with a high number of youngsters facing a challenging world into which they do not fit with any ease.
How we care for these members of society defines our humanity.
We want life to be barrier-free for every single person on the planet. But that is a tall order and not one that will be achieved anytime soon, especially when we consider what is going on around the world in terms of social unrest, violence, poverty, and all manner of suffering.
That doesn’t mean we can’t try in our own neighbourhoods to find ways to open our businesses to allow hiring opportunities for everyone, regardless of challenges.
Thanks to Ellen welcoming Sam and Chris on to her show, perhaps the mere awareness of how we can build business differently will help change our pattern of thinking.
Though we’ve come a long way in broadening our acceptance of each other, we still have a long way to go. But like eating an elephant, we can only do it one bite at a time.
wendistewart@live.ca

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