“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Great Expectations

I am often in situations where people with intellectual disabilities and those without who are their teachers, their care providers, their family members are together. Sometimes it is a theraputic or educational situation and other times just typical life situations. It also seems, that those with the disability perform, to a certain extent, in accordance with the expectations of those they are with. So...
If they are treated as a child, they act as a child.
If they are treated as an adult, they act like an adult.

If they are treated as if they can't learn anything, they don't learn anything.
If they are treated with the expectation that they will learn, they do learn.

If they are treated as people who are just intellectually disabled, they act as such.
If they are treated as people who think, have opinions and are capable of thinking deeply they do.

I make concerted efforts, when I am instructing people who have intellectual disabilities, to try to stretch them, particularly if I am talking about spiritual things. I am always impressed how they will raise to the level of the discussion. They will often try to take what I am saying and translate it into a direct application to their lives. "So you are saying that I shouldn't listen when somebody tells me to ..." they will say. One gal I know who has down's syndrome, will pause after you ask her a question, and often give profound insights. Too often, however, she is not given the opportunity to do so because the people around her think her pause a lack of understanding, and their limited expectations cause them to be impatient.

I believe I have shared this here before, but I have a friend who has severe intellectual disabilities, lets call him Fred. Fred would try to get my attention by nagging me with a question, the same question over and over again. Finally, one day, he asked me for a dollar. That got me to stop and pay attention to him for a minute. He learned that he could get me to stop by asking me for a dollar. Well many dollars have changed hands over the years, but at some point I stopped and began to have a conversation with him. I expected him to be able to converse with me on a variety of topics. At first our discussions revolved around his original repetitive question and asking for a dollar, but grew to discussion of his desire to marry his teacher, and his brother who lives in Hawaii, and his interest in baseball, and his favorite foods and so forth. When I treated him as a real human being who would communicate with me on a variety of topics, he rose to the occasion. Had I continued in my interactions with him where I basically ignored him, he would have remained something quite less than what he was capable of.

So I have learned to try hard to raise my expectations of people, independent of their level of disability. Too often their low performance is due to what I do as the person who is in control of the social situation. It is the result of mistaken notions of the limitation of the person with disabilities.



Mark said...

Wow! I'm beginning to get it. My student looks at a picture of a puppy and shouts "Woof!" But he's 17. If I teach him to say "dog" instead, I have moved him from being perceived as childlike (or less) to "person", deserving of being treated with dignity, respect and compassion, just like anyone else.

Thanks for the help. I'll use it.

Anonymous said...

This blog opened my eyes to a whole new level of social interaction with persons with disabilities. As my interaction with persons with disabilities increases, I have come to realize that they are truly people just like everybody else. Just because they have disabilities does not mean that they cannot carry on a regular conversation with a person that does not have a disability.

This blog also made me realize the importance of raising the level of expectation when interacting with a person with disabilities. Before this experience, I did not try to lead a conversation with a person with disabilities because I was too impatient to wait for a response or I simply thought that the person was not capable of answering intelligently. I am ashamed to say that most of the times I did not bother. I realized that persons with disabilities, such as the lady in the blog, are able to give insightful responses. All we have to do is be patient and get rid of our per-conceived notions and prejudices towards persons with disabilities and we will be surprised.

Randall said...

I couldn't agree more. I truly believe all people will live into the expectation you set for them. It may not happen right away but with patience and love, it will happen.

Thanks for the reminder.

As a father of toddler with downs, I look at her the same way I look at my two sons who don't have downs, there is nothing she can't do.

voyles said...

In dealing with those with intelectual disabilities, the bar of one's personal learning experience has been set low and too often that bar never gets raised again. Unfortunately that bar is too often set by those around them, who have high expections for themselves and low expectations for the student with intelectual disabilities.
If we expect and treat those with Intellectual disabilities to do little, then that normally becomes how we interact and teach them. If all we expect is an action and not an interaction, then we fool ourselves and do nothing to benefit and help those with intellectual disabilities. Intelectual disabilities do limit the individual in what they can learn and do but I wonder if all too often it is those who interact and teach the individuals with disabilities that actually limit them.
We begin with baby steps in life but we progress to big steps and eventually we learn to run. we should allow those with intellectual disabilities to run in the area of learning, not keeping them in an infant phase in the learning process, achieving all they can achieve.