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


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Juxtaposition



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.

McNair

23 comments:

Anna said...

sigh.That hit home.Thank you for such truthful wisdom. I will need to let it soak in and re-read it.

Anonymous said...

As I started reading your blog, it was very realistic in how you explained the classroom and how people have ceratain misconceptions about people with disabilities. If someone walked into a class and saw these adults coloring or playing with the toddler toys, they most likely would think its unusual. Unfortunately, attitudes are affected on a daily basis because of mistreatment. Instead of making adults with disabilites uncomfortable or making them feel like children, we should help them as much as possible. Every human is from God and we should accept everyone as they are.

julia said...

When I looked at the first photo thought shape and color sorters, but I did not put an age to it because I have seen this type of toys in infant room up to 2 year olds. My daughter is 3 and she still plays with sorters and she turns it into a game or she would ask me questions to test my knowledge. Plus she also likes the sound it makes when it drops into the bucket. If I was to see an older child from ages 10-12 playing with this toy, my first impression would be “why is that child so intrigued with this toy?” I would label the child as “something is not normal with this child.”
If I was to walk into a classroom with adults coloring, I would think “oh cool I want color too.” The reason why I would carry my picture that I colored because I hate coloring and I usually just scribble. Therefore, the colored picture I carry in front of my 3 ring binder is because I am proud of my work. I would not judge an adult with a coloring paper only because that’s what I do from time to time.
Yes we do keep in mind not to judge people and be negative, but we do not always apply what we know not to do. People are very quick to judge on first impression and that is what they based their feeling towards the person on.
-Julia, CBU student

Julana said...

That is a tough one. It takes thought to find age-appropriate materials that are engaging and fit skill level and interest.

Eric Thompson SPE569 said...

This is true, and a logical concern. For those who don't understand how to treat adults with child-like tendencies, how do we convince them that they can do better? If our friends, students, family members with special needs operate at a four-year old level, how do we convince those that do not know better (general public) that it is okay to treat them as adults? And what of those who work directly with the students? Should they be chastised for "dumbing down" their interaction?

I agree that there is, to a great degree, a level of responsibility that we have to educate not only the general public on the humanity and social viability of our friends, but our professional counterparts as well. In physical education, the equivilant is the teacher who rolls out a ball and says "go play." In the bible it was the witnesses baptised with John's baptism who had never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul, in verse 4 of Acts 19, exercised his holy boldness and - in a spirit of love - offered to add to their experience. His example can serve us all in many walks of life, but especially as we seek to educate those around us, first by example, and next with caring admonition.

Anonymous said...

Very true. Unfortunately this goes against everything I was taught – I was taught to focus on “developmentally appropriate” instead of “age-appropriate”. Providing individuals with opportunities that are not going to further stigmatize them is clearly important though. An example that comes to mind (which I think most people could relate to), is that my child is a “tween” and so has not yet outgrown the desire to play with certain toys when at home, however, I would never take them to church and place them in front of him to play with. The social ramifications of this could haunt him all throughout his teen years simply because of a single moment that caused him to lose the respect of his peers. My child would understand the hurt that comes from such a situation, but even if he didn’t it would still be my responsibility to help him be accepted by his peers. I can’t fully know how the individual with disabilities perceives things—even though they may not be able to communicate it to me, doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t understand when they are being treated in a degrading way. Whether they understand it or not though shouldn’t change the way I treat them; either way I need to make sure I allow them the opportunity to be accepted with dignity.

TheRextras said...

Agreeing with your premise. Can change only one.person.at.a.time.

Barbara

Anonymous said...

I really agree with this message and i also believe that stigmatizing a person is very wrong. It's so interesting how as a society we can so easily judge the ways of people without having any form of remorse for what we are doing. Especially in the christian world, we would like to tell ourselves how much we represent Christ and the Kingdom, however we fall very short when it comes to being in His image and Likeness.

Rachel said...

I have to say that I felt the same way when I read your blog that I felt when you talked about it in class. And that feeling was sadness and disgust. It's not enough to feel bad that these children and adults are being subjected to this kind of treatment. Just because a child has a disability doesn't mean that they should be under-stimulated. I wish that more teachers had the passion that you have for what you teach, and they would deliver that passion in the classroom. Perhaps if they did we wouldn't have infant toys 'entertaining' children who are really too old for them.

Anonymous said...

Very enlightening...I think as educators sometimes we become too "educated" and forget that we know nothing...we must look to our students and their unique and individual needs to guide us in planning instruction...thank you

Lindsey said...

Wonderful insight into Christianity and the disabled. We go to a wonder, all inclusive church with a sign language interpreter, cut-outs in various areas in the church for the wheelchairs, (so people in wheelchairs are not forced to sit in the front or the back,) large print program for the visually impaired, and a VERY welcoming congregation for anyone with a mental health or developmental disability. In fact, one parishioner with Down Syndrome often choses to stand next to the pastor when he gives his sermons. She is a welcome reminder that God is patient with everyone, even if they are a distraction during the most important part of the mass. I LOVE our church!
Lindsey Petersen
http://5kidswdisabilities.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

I do think this is a most incredible website for proclaiming great wonders of Our God!

meryl said...

AMEN and again I say amen! It comes down to education, creativity and availability of appropriate resources. It also comes down to courage- the loving courage to refuse to use demeaning or stigmatizing materials and the loving courage to speak up.

We have searched high and low for age appropriate and meaningful Bible study and retreat resources for adults with intellectual disabilities, but they barely exist. We invest hours in creating our own materials to share the Good News. Maybe sometime we will have the time to poublish the great stuff we have created...

It is good to not feel alone in living this message.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, the image you described in your posting is exactly what I observed in a high school special education classroom about two weeks. Rather than the teachers putting the work in to provide age-appropriate activities for their students, the students were simply given an activity to keep them busy, not understanding the social stigmatization that will occur as a result. One girl was told that she could not participate with the rest of the class until she finished coloring her page of flowers from the day before. I wonder what type of educational benefit the teacher thinks that this young woman will receive by coloring those extra four flowers?

As a college student who personally enjoys coloring as a stress reliever, I kind of understand the “But they enjoy coloring” argument. However, these students with intellectual disabilities are not choosing to color for fun or for stress relieving. Rather they are subjected to social stigmatization it as a result of the laziness or incompetence of their teachers. I know that as a high school student, I would have been embarrassed beyond belief if my teacher gave me a coloring page while the other students were studying because she thought that was all that I could handle. I hope that in the future, teachers will consider how they are causing their students to be perceived, and provide their students with age-appropriate activities.

Alyssa said...

While I agree that we must do our best to prevent negative stereotypes from being aimed at our students from those outside of our classrooms, I have a hard time with doing strictly "age appropriate" activities. I am currently working with children with Autism. The colored cylinder with the random shapes shown in picture one is one of the tools used in my classroom. The students in my class are vocal, but few are actually verbal. On top of just Autism, 3 of the 5 of my students are ED and one has a severe case of OCD. With all of my students, one center during the day is strictly just matching...shapes, colors, numbers, letters, signs. We use the child's play toy during the centers. As the students go through the center, we try to communicate with the student "find the square" or "find the star" instead of just placing the toy in front of the student. WASC visited our campus last week and their biggest critique was to find more age appropriate activities for the classrooms. Well, an age appropriate activity for a 16 year old is Geometry and World History. For my Autistic kids and my kids with Downs syndrome, I am not going to be able to put the quadratic formula on the board and expect them to learn how to solve the equation. However, I can use age appropriate tones of voice and I can do more than just a coloring page in the classroom for these students. A lot of what I do in the classroom are bright colors and songs to teach the kids whichever the lesson is for the month. Something that is not necessarily age appropriate but the teacher has adapted to be age appropriate is integrating sign language into the classroom. So although the students in the classroom may have a coloring page or something that is not something a 16 year old would typically do on a daily basis, the students learn sign language to coincide with the learning. So instead of having to show a coloring page to say pig, the students can sign “pig”. I do think that teachers need to go out of the way to make learning inside and outside of the classroom meet the needs of students in a way that does not baby the student. I think that teachers and individuals working with students of special needs need to constantly be looking for a way to move past coloring pages and children toys. Though using the colored cylinder with random shapes is calming for my autistic children and they use it during free time, chances are if they take the cylinder out to lunch with the general education kids, the students with autism will probably be made fun of. But at the same time, I cannot hand them a geometry book and expect them to know what it says. I think that this is a struggle that teachers face on a regular basis. I do not want to hinder my students from being seen as smart in normal because of something I do.

Anonymous said...

In living the life of a person with a disability, I am truly inspired that Dr. Jeff McNair has allowed God to use him in a positive way. For so long the population of the disabled has been an outcast, we have been looked at by the government as a burden to society, we are looked upon as though we are less than human, we have been looked upon as a person with evil punishment and a host of other negative things. Well I am here to say that we are not. God did not make a mistake when he created us, as a matter of fact the bible says in Leviticus 19:14 KJV “Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.” The bible has many scriptures on disability, take a look at it and ask yourself “If I am a child of God, why do I outcast the disabled?”
Have some compassion, love and a smile towards a person with a disability, I bet it will be a day that you will always remember. There is going to always be some misconceptions about the disabled population, take for instance going into a classroom where there are adults who are intellectually disabled who coloring or playing with toys for a younger child, don’t be surprised and assume things. Questions do not hurt, ignorance does.

KimberlyQ said...

Because the term “disabled” defines so many different issues for people I can see your point when you look at a person that might be learning disabled but, if we took for a moment at person who is disabled, as in not-able-bodied, and were to relate this posting to them I would have to respectfully disagree. If, by using what society recognizes as a infant toy, I will see progress or healing for a disabled adult (or child for that matter) then I say, why should we care what society thinks? I know a disabled person who would use any means necessary to get just the slightest bit better and that would include any toy you brought to her. It should be alright to be who we are, even if that means using the resources that are given to us or shown to us, in order to get better or at least to learn to be supportive of ourselves. When a person who is trying to learn to better use or reuse his/her hands and needs a learning tool that happens to resemble an infant’s toy then they should use it, perhaps it shouldn’t be painted the brightest primary colors possible, but the basic concept might just help that person progress and get just a little bit more of usage from their previously unusable hand/arm. In accepting those with disabilities, I don’t know if a toy will really make that much of a difference in how a disabled person is viewed. Those who are learning disabled, especially if they are obviously handicapped, shouldn’t and many times cannot hide who they are, we as a society should be able to accept them any way they are, even if they choose to or need to use toys to better themselves. I do not view a child’s toy, especially when used as a tool for achieving greater ability, treating an adult as a child. Treating an intellectually disabled person as a child comes purely from actions and not just our thoughts or views. I live in the real world and understand society doesn’t usually work this way but I think that educating people, one person at a time, can make the difference.

Anonymous said...

The connotation that these objects establish are that of "childlike." Your blog brought into perspective the truth that lies in most classrooms and possibly in most homes. An adult should not be treated like a child and be given a toy. Why is this acceptable? I have been to many school observations and have noticed young adults with forms of mental retardation playing/coloring with such items. When I have questioned the teachers they state that they are age approriate to their cognitive abilities. Some of these actions such as color sorting are included in their IEP's. In most instances, the parent's do not contest against such treatment or goals; for they also believe that their teenager/adult is a child. Most profound/severe students have bibs placed when given their food; what does this also state? As Eric Thompson stated, we do have to re-educate ourselves, the general public and professional educators in treating people with disabilities.

Although most with cognitive delays may be oblivious to such treatment, we have to be concise of our actions and stop perpetuating stigmitazations and stereotypes.

Anonymous said...

After taking this course and reading this blog, I became more aware of the
importance to developing “age appropriate” materials for those with learning disabilities. We need to realize the importance of protecting and recognizing a particular group in society that may not be able to take matters into their own hands all of the time. I realize now that often times those with learning disabilities are subjected to activities that would be inappropriate to an individual of the same age with no disability. We as a society may not be aware of the social ramifications an individual may face unless we begin to take a step back and observe as an average person. I was not fully conscious of the effect of having a 10 year old working with infant toys deemed as appropriate. I would say that the child seems to enjoy that particular activity and not look at it as whether its age appropriate or not, rather than look at the complete picture of a child that age playing with infant or toddler toys. I never considered how society may view this child with a learning disability because they are happy to complete such an activity. We as a society are further stigmatizing that those with learning disabilities are “childish” when in reality; many have much to teach to society if we take the time to encourage them. Although not all people may place negative thoughts on the activities an individual with learning disabilities may participate in when they are not age appropriate, we as a society need to be aware of the social ramifications we are placing on that particular person.

Sue Giffin said...

It is sad that people view people with intellectual disabilities as having nothing to contribute but coloring a page. It is my opinion that in a Sunday School class there is no reason not to have a discussion regarding the given Bible verse, and have each person create a drawing of their own on a piece of paper that would show their favorite part. It is sad society that we live in where a person can be looked down upon simply be appearances.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the premise of your argument. We should not be adding to the stigmatization of children or adults with disabilities by the curriculum and activities that we choose. However, I find it so unfair that this stigmatization even exists and that we have to think about it. Everyone is different and unique in the way that they act and learn, both regular and special education individuals. The general population should not look at a class of intellectually disabled adults as inferior to themselves, just different. But the unfortunate fact is that they do feel that these people are inferior. I agree that we need to work towards not adding to the stigmatization of people with disabilities, but I think that we also need to work towards increasing the kindness and non-judgment of the general public.

Anonymous said...

I do think this is a most incredible website for proclaiming great wonders of Our God!

Anonymous said...

i think , we all want what is best,but trying to teach them that baby toys are wrong just because others see it that way. i look at my brother hes retarted hes 54 and maybe a mind of a 2 year old. but each day i see him playing with his toys, hes very happy .sure, he does not know what others thnk of him , we tryed many things thur out the years to teach him things, but they never took.i dont fault any one for trying to push there love ones to be like so call normal kids.but billy lives in his own little world, and hes happy , and as my mother did before she passed. i will fight for his right to be happy , and not to be rude , dont give a dam what others think.