Wednesday, February 17, 2010
What do you think when you see this object? This object or one very much like it has been in many households in America. Typically you think "infant" as this is a toy for small children that helps them to learn to sort shapes. It is a kind of a cultural icon that people would recognize.
Now imagine that you see a person say 10-12 years old playing with this object. What is your first impression of this person? Do you think that it is cool that this pre-teen is playing with this object or do you immediately assume that there is "something wrong" with this individual because they are playing with this toy? No doubt the answer is the latter. When we juxtapose people with things that typically do not or perhaps even should not be with them, we cause them to bear the associations that go with such a juxtaposition.
This is called using age inappropriate materials with a person. The use of this particular toy will stigmatize a person who is over the age of say 3 who is using it. Let alone, if the person is the only one in a group who is using it.
Now what about this picture which is a page from a Christian coloring book. Imagine that you visited a class that was for adults with intellectual disabilities and they were all sitting around coloring this picture. I deliberately picked this picture because it is a bit more "hip" less juvenile than the pictures in many Christian coloring books.
What would you think about the adults sitting and coloring this picture? I suspect you would think that this is a very unusual adult class as virtually no other adult class sits around coloring pictures. "But the students enjoy coloring!" That really doesn't matter as I know how they will be perceived when they carry around the picture they have colored, they don't. They may be oblivious to the treatment they receive, the stigmatization that goes with being thought of as a child. I know the ramifications, the demeaning, the loss of respect, the way attitudes are affected by simply being treated as if they were a child by those who are supposedly providing them with a Christian education.
Because we understand these things, we must do our best to prevent the negative from happening. Our students may be intellectually disabled, but they are full partners in the blessings of God. I do them no favors when I indicate to people that I think they are children when they are adults.