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

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Learning from my friends

This past week we celebrated the 16 year of our Light and Power group at my church. Kathi and I started the group way back then and have learned a great deal over the years. As I was reflecting on that very idea, what I had learned, the thing that jumps out at me is the perspective that adults with intellectual disabilities have about themselves and about others. It is a perspective that I am still trying to learn...or perhaps would be a process of unlearning much of what I currently know about ideas of intellectual disability.

You see, 1) my friends largely do not see themselves as disabled and 2) they don't see me as different from them in any significant way.

I, on the contrary, 1) see them as disabled and 2) see myself as different. I have good reason for my perceptions, however, because on the basis of all the assessments I have been taught to value, I score higher than they do. So obviously that implies that we are different in characteristics that are very important.

My friends are happy with their lives, but I see them as disabled.
My friends do not see themselves as disabled, but I see them as disabled.
My friends do not see any difference between they and I, but I see them as disabled.

The biggest lesson I am learning, is not to judge others, from the others who I and other professionals are constantly judging. Rather than just seeing people as people, I evaluate them and see them as disabled. I have been trained well both professionally and by my society. But I am increasingly evaluating the notions which are entrenched in my thinking and finding that perspective is not only wrong morally, it is wrong logically. No benefit is provided that I can really see by many of the labels provided. They are provided such that menus of services can be made accessible. I have to have a particular label in order to receive a particular service. Perhaps this makes sense for agencies. But why would such a professional perspective find its way into my personal life? Why would such a perspective find its way into the church? Is there really any benefit in me convincing myself and those with intellectual disabilities that we differ from each other? Because I am the one with the higher score on the test used to make the differentiation, perhaps I might be more apt to embrace the assessment. But my friends with intellectual disabilities teach me with their lives that those assessments are in many ways foolish and do not reflect reality.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree, from experiences in the classrooms I have observed, the people who are disabled do not think of themselves as disabled, therefore, we should no consider them disabled as well. I may be better at taking tests or certain other aspects, but I am sure they are stronger than myself in other aspects. For example, that one autistic male we watched last week in class. He created an amazing intricate layout of Rome, I can barely draw stick figures! It is important to be open minded and to not judge others..

Mary said...

Assessment does point to individual differences among people, the nature of which may or may not be relevant to "reality" (whatever that is). If identification of those differences leads to teaching or other types of support tailored to the needs of the learners, and if the results are used in a non-judgmental manner, then there is potential for good to come from assessment activities. Ignoring individual differences and the variety of individual needs that necessarily follow puts us at risk for the ultimate abuse: treating everyone exactly the same, regardless of needs. I think the key is keeping the process non-judgmental and keeping the focus on people first, considering dis/abilities only to the extent that we can fit programs to people and not continue to force people into the boxes we call schools. As for the church, it's a wide open field for education and advocacy that is not only blessed by Christ, but mandated.

Mark said...

St. Francis of Assissi is credited with encouraging Christians to preach the gospel everyday, "and if necessery, use words." He meant preach the gospel by the way you live your life. To use educational jargon, preach the gospel by what you model.

Many of my friends with disability do that very well, whether gifted with words or not. The point is the essiential humanity present in each of us is not missed by disabled persons. But we miss it. We may acknowledge their humanity and their rights to be treated with a certain ammount of dignity, yet we reserve some small space of seperation between us. They are, somehow "other" than us (see Buber). That makes it ok to treat them differently, categorically, in need of "protection," from us, by agencies.

We have much to learn from this part of our "Christain body" when we miss how essential they are to the well being ofthe entire body (1 Cor. 12:22). I hope we learn soon.

Anonymous said...

Why do we place such high importance on assessments? Why do we let assessments tell us what category of intelligence we fit into? I really enjoyed this article because I am learning the same lesson: not to judge others. Throughout our lives we are trained to judge and name others as "normal" and "disabled". But those who are named "disabled" don't even know that they are and they view themselves just like us. I think that is so refreshing! This class has definitely opened my eyes to the way society, including myself, has viewed those with disabilities. I no longer want to be apart of the people that look upon this group and feel sorry for them. Instead, I want to be a person who looks upon those with disabilities as God's children whom He intended to also have a great purpose on this earth!

Wandering Pilgrim said...

Some interesting observations, my friend! Please don't take offense at my remarks below. . . they are meant in love to you. Nothing personal. . . Let's look at your quotes:

"I see them as disabled." Why is that? Does Jesus see them as disabled as well? If not, why not?

"I see myself as different."
Again, why is that? Does Jesus see you as different as well? If not, why not?

"I score higher than they do."

What if the tables were turned and the test were designed to show forth your greatest weaknesses - ones that a "disabled" person might possibly excel at (such as the layout of Rome Anonymous #1 mentioned in the comments section here.) Would you boast of your score then?

"The biggest lesson I am learning, is not to judge others, from the others who I and other professionals are constantly judging."

AMEN! Perceptive comment and insightful. . . not to judge others (in areas that are properly left to God alone) in the depraved environment of the constant judging that goes on in this present world. Easier said than done, my friend!

"...that perspective is not only wrong morally, it is wrong logically."

Good conclusion. I commend you for it!

"Why would such a perspective find its way into the church?"

To keep people out of God's Kingdom. . . the Enemy is deceitful and the Fathers of lies, after all. . . lying is his mother tongue!

Embrace these little ones into the Father's Kingom, Jeff. You're getting the picture!

Thanks for a very insightful and reflective post!

Anonymous said...

I have always felt that a test or assessment doesn't accurately test a person’s intelligence. In my opinion a test gives results on how well a person may be feeling mentally. From my own personal experience, there are a lot of children, teenagers, and adults that are just as smart as me. It may take a longer process for them to find the answer to a question, but yet they can still answer the question. I think assessment tests are over rated and don't prove much of anything. This may be weird to say but I don't think that our intelligence is what makes us who we are. I believe that how we treat others and how we live our lives is what makes a person. I think that too many people discriminate against people with disabilities because of the simple fact that they see themselves as being better. If you ask yourself what does being better mean? To me it’s just a word. It’s not an action and it doesn’t have much truth. I feel that we could learn something from people with disabilities.