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

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Us becoming like Them

I have had a bit of a revelation in the last few weeks. I finished writing an article that has a great title. It is called, "The indispensable nature of persons with intellectual disabilities to the church." It should be coming out in the next few months in the Journal of Religion, Disability and Health. Anyway, as often happens when you submit an article, it was sent back to me with some questions, and suggestions for changes both of which need to be addressed if the article is to be published.

As I was working through the revisions, an idea hit me. In an integrated setting where people with and without intellectual disabilities are together, you obviously have two different groups in interaction with each other: those with intellectual disabilities and those without intellectual disabilities. Now those without intellectual disabilities have the ability to learn social skills, and to pretty much reflect what might be called nondisabled society. In contrast, those with intellectual disabilities may not understand social skills and therefore do not reflect nondisabled society. So for example, research indicates that people with disabilities loose their jobs most frequently because of minor social skill deficits. But I also note that my friends with ID have a very different perspective on disability. They may not see themselves as disabled, and may not regard others with disabilities like their own or even more severe, as disabled. I find that they typically just see others as people.

I have one friend with ID who says that a person with a disability is someone who can't get along with other people and gets into fights. So when I ask him whether he knows someone who has a disability, even though I know that he knows people who use wheelchairs or walkers and have severe ID to the point of being nonverbal, he comes back to his definition and tries to think of someone who is difficult to get along with.

But getting back to my point, as I am spending time with friends with intellectual disabilty, I find that I have the ability to change in a variety of ways while they don't always have the ability to change. So, in order for there to be social interactions with them, I have to change. Actually (and this was my revelation), I think that I become more like them, I become more like my intellectually disabled friends. Specifically,
    • I don't worry so much about social skills and their are few things someone might do, socially, that would shock or alarm me. I become like them in that way.
    • I begin to see people as people whether or not they have a disability. They are not characterized in my mind as my friends and my disabled friends. I become like them in that way.
    • They are very forgiving of others who are unkind to them. Hopefully I become like them in that way.
    • I will also say, unapologetically, that they are more loving toward others than I often am. Hopefully I become like them in that way.

These and other changes are not forced on me in any kind of willful acts on their part. It just kind of becomes the rules of the game if I am going to be able to interact with them. So they change me/I become more like them. In order for the enviornment to soften to include them, there is a level at which the enviornment becomes like them.

In the words of the title of my article, the indispensable nature is at least partly the positive ways that I become like them as a result of being with them.


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