Sam Houston Electric Cooperative recognizes the value in every one of our 62,000 consumer-members and their family members, including those with intellectual and physical disabilities.
This article was born from an experience several Sam Houston EC lineworkers had with Daniel McGallion as they installed underground service to a new home on the McGallion family property, several miles north of the town of Fred.
McGallion is 34 years old and lives with his parents, Fred and Bonnie. He has autism and is deaf. Those conditions make communicating with McGallion difficult at times; however, if a person opens their mind, he can express his thoughts in a manner that can be understood. He uses sign language, gestures, handwritten notes and drawings to relay his thoughts.
“Daniel’s world is pretty small, but it needs to be,” Bonnie said. “He is a rule follower, and he is very smart, but if you heard his voice, you would think there isn’t a lot going on. But you have no idea.”
Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum condition” that affects people differently and to varying degrees. It is a complex, lifelong developmental disorder that can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships and self-regulation.
Daniel has a passion for astronauts, electrical lineworkers, the military and law enforcement. His numerous drawings and room’s decor make it apparent how much he thinks of the people in those careers. Though he holds astronauts in highest regard, lineworkers are not far behind.
“He is interested in anything with electricity, from the poles, the lines, the meters, the trucks to transformers,” Bonnie said. “He thinks it is funny when a squirrel gets on the transformer and then it falls to the ground. He will tell you the story over and over.”
In fact, as I was interviewing Bonnie, Daniel started to make gestures similar to someone shoveling coal into a furnace. He followed the gesturing with a drawing of a coal power plant and transmission lines. He was illustrating how electricity was created and then distributed.
Daniel doesn’t know me, but he saw I was wearing a shirt with the Sam Houston EC logo, and he knows the Co-op is the power provider in his area. I feel that is why he drew the coal power plant and transmission lines. It was his way of talking about something that he and I know about—electricity.
Like others with intellectual disabilities, Daniel is very smart in many ways, but being on the autism spectrum makes it difficult for the rest of us to understand what he knows.
According to Jeff Johnston, a Woodville lineworker, Daniel recognized each tool his crew used and its purpose when his crew showed up to install an underground service.
“You may not be able to understand what he is saying, but we could tell that he knew exactly what he was talking about,” Johnston said. “Everything was on point.”
Despite his small world, Daniel is a people person. He will shake your hand when he meets you, and he may even give you a hug. As Johnston and his crew prepared the job site, Bonnie came out to tell him that Daniel would be out soon.
“I told them that Daniel was on his way out and he was going to help them,” Bonnie recalled. “None of the guys were bothered by anything he did. He was going to watch everything they were going to do. They are his heroes!”
Daniel is no stranger to a bucket truck. His cousin, Tyler, works for a contractor in the Beaumont area. McGallion will inspect the truck and tools whenever Tyler brings it home.
Before power was connected to the meter and the new home, Johnston allowed Daniel to carry the new meter to the meter pole. After setting the meter in the socket, Johnston then allowed him to seal the can with proper safety measures and under careful supervision.
“He really humbled us that day,” Johnston said. “We get caught up with everyday life, and he really brought us down to earth. He is an extremely good guy, he really is.”
Bonnie was pleased to see the natural interaction between her stepson and Sam Houston EC employees. “When people include him, it makes me really happy,” she said.
Daniel touched the Cooperative employees so much with his enthusiasm that they wanted to give him something they thought he would enjoy.
“I called Dana [Massey], director of administration, to see if there was anything we could bring out to him,” Johnston said. “Dana got a package together, and about a week later we brought him a plastic hardhat and a miniature bucket truck with the Co-op logo on it.”
Daniel was ecstatic with the gifts from the lineworkers, but he had something for them too. Bonnie gave them some drawings he made about their earlier visit. Johnston said the drawings were very detailed, including everything in the drawing down to the meter number.
He has the hardhat and replica truck on display in his room with several meters and one of his favorite possessions, a meter lamp Bonnie found in a local antique store. The meter dials rotate when the lamp is in use. Incidentally, Daniel does support the use of LED lightbulbs.
For years Daniel drew a diagram of a lamp made out of an electric meter, according to Bonnie. He drew panel by panel, like a cartoon, in a sequence. He drew each little piece and part being put together. Each little wire, each little screw, and at the end of the sequence there was picture of a lamp made of a meter. He was fixated on it. She couldn’t even imagine how many times he had shown them the drawing.
When Bonnie saw a lamp like the one he had been drawing, she instantly paid the $75 asking price. “He was so happy, and then he quit showing us the diagram,” Bonnie said. “We were glad to move along from that, and he was happy.”
A meter on a Caribbean cruise the Daniel took several years ago was the best part of the trip for him. After spotting it, he was able to communicate with the owner of the restaurant that the meter and meter box were old and in need of repair or replacement, in his opinion.
“Seeing the meter was something he recognized and being able to communicate about it just made his trip,” Bonnie said.
This month, if you meet someone who may have autism or another intellectual or physical disability, think of Daniel and how unique he is. Do as he would do. Look past the differences and see how much you have in common with a person.
Be friendly. Daniel doesn’t care what size you are or what color you are. He will talk to you about a cat, a dog or a vacuum cleaner. He will want to shake your hand and hug you. To him, it does not matter how different or unique someone is. He has never met a person he did not like.
Author’s note: Several Sam Houston EC employees have children or family members with intellectual disabilities, and they have shared similar advice and stories with their co-workers and friends. Co-op employees truly live among the communities they serve, and experiences such as these help us understand and relate to our members.