One day, while waiting for a yoga class, I sat inf ront of a man at the gym’s lobby. At first, it seemed like he was talking to somebody on the phone, but then I realized he was talking to himself. He was merely uttering gibberish, exclaiming names and “I’m sorry, mommy” over and over again.
As a licensed teacher with background in special education, I walked to the reception to ask if the man, probably in his mid to late 20s, was accompanied by anyone. The receptionist said no.
I know the man. I’ve seen him at the gym before. I saw him several times at around closing time, watching snippets of Filipino movies on Youtube.
I was concerned because it seemed that the man was autistic and he was around serious gym equipment.
“Pero Ma’am, harmless naman siya,” said the receptionist.
The gym’s staff seemed to mean well. But also, I felt that from a PR perspective, they’d rather just let the man be. Apparently, the man is brought to the gym by his parents, left there for hours, before getting picked up. I guess that’s why I saw him late at night.
This guy is left here for hours upon hours.
The first feeling that came upon me was anger. How can these parents treat the gym as a daycare center? The gym employees are fitness experts, not special education teachers. So this man sits at the lobby for hours, talking to himself if not going online. After that, he goes upstairs to use some gym equipment, before staring out the window and mumbling to himself anew.
While checking my phone by the rowing machines, he started shouting “Papatayin kita!”
I guess he watched one of those movies with Chanda Romero or Cherie Gil, or maybe it was a line thrown at Sharon Cuneta. He seemed to be fond of those. An older lady on a treadmill saw and put her headphones on. She didn’t seem to mind much.
With the rest of the gym functioning normally, I thought that maybe I shouldn’t mind much, too. It’s a prestigious gym with top of the line equipment, commanding top dollar for their facility. Was it bothering my gym experience?
Can I say yes?
Most people might think I’m being an ultra-sensitive douchebag for caring too much that a PWD is being allowed to be with me in a gym. Everyone deserves everything, true. But this is different. Nobody should leave an adult with special needs at the gym alone for hours.
There’s a sign in the gym that says “To avoid any untoward incidents, children below 14 should not be allowed inside the gym.” But the man was clearly suffering some delays in development, but is allowed inside.
I’m not going to play victim, because I’m not going to die because there’s a guy beside me mumbling while I crawl to my third kilometer. What bothers me most is that the gym has to put up to this.
I get it. The man is still a customer who’s willing to fork out Php 3,500 a month for the membership. Also, can you imagine the backlash they can receive if they turn him away?
I go back to my point about the parents, and how they discarded this guy and left him to deal with himself at the gym. He has no trainer. He just roams around as he pleases. At one point, he blew his nose on his hand. And licked it.
The next time, he blew his nose on the gym’s towel, then placed the soiled side on the gym chair’s armrest. You see, there’s also a health and sanitation aspect to this.
Clearly, this guy needs an attendant with him while at the gym.
So to this guy’s parents, I can just imagine the kind of responsibility that an adult with special needs brings to your life. I’m a PWD myself. But please, he’s not a problem that can just be put away for hours at a time at the gym.
The gym isn’t daycare, just as you are not part time parents.