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

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Is learning disability the result of sin?

I want to return to Matthew Phelps article in the Spring 2004 issue of the Christian Scholar's Review. As I reported, last blog, he states,
"More extreme deficits due to diseases or disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease, a hippocampal injury, attention-deficit disorder, or learning disabilities are a result of the Fall according to my view. They are not part of the way things are supposed to be."

The notion of a detectable disability being a part of the fall raises some interesting issues. The history of intelligence testing reveals that prior to the early 1900's learning disabilities were not even recognized. I suspect that people always experienced difficulty with learning, however, the recognition of low IQ did not even occur till about a hundred years ago, with the actual label of "learning disability" being coined by Dr. Samuel Kirk many years later (I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Kirk before his death. He was a interesting insightful man). This recognition also related to the urbanization of society, particularly in America.

In a previous post I noted the fact that an individual with mental retardation who is a friend of mine is not sure whether or not he has a disability (see May 18th) although I see him as disabled. I made the point that that is a problem both for me and for the Church. Seeing someone in a particular way implies a form of stereotyping and the accompanying baggage that goes along with that perception. As much as I might want to be egalitarian, there is a difference in my relationships with persons with cognitive disability and those without. We talk about the same things, often do the same things, but there is still a difference which although it accompanies my perception of disability is not necessarily related to my friends' disabilities.

So, going back to intelligence testing, a point came where a group of people who weren't disabled suddenly were, on the basis of a test of their intelligence. We also find that many of these people really weren't disabled, but were being tested in a language other than their primary language, or using cultural language, metaphor and history with which they were unfamiliar. It seems in these cases, the result of the Fall was the development of the tests not the disability of the persons.

This brings me to my point. If I look at something, and I perceive it as evil or as a result of the Fall or the result of evil, it colors my perception of the reality of that thing I am observing as well as the manner in which I will categorize, describe, interact, etc. with that thing. If disability is often a societal construct (see May 18th again) and not necessarily a negative characteristic of an individual I need to re-evaluate the societal construct, not the individual. A couple of examples.

In Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Lenny is a large man with cognitive disability (mental retardation). I particularly loved the movie adaptation of the book (the most recent one) as it displayed Lenny's competence as a worker. When others were struggling to haul bags of grain, he could take two at a time and toss them easily into the wagon. From the employer's perspective who was the better worker? Knowing many workers with mental retardation, I would also add that these individuals rarely complain about their wages, and treat their entry level job as a career.

Then, there was a research study done about social skills and workers with mental retardation. You see the literature indicates that most persons with mental retardation loose their jobs due to minor social skill deficits. The researchers in the Chicago area went to a jobsite where a man with mental retardation was working. They asked the boss and coworkers, "If you could change anything about Joe, what would it be?" They replied that he repeated topics too much at break and other times during the day. Can you even imagine your boss calling you in and saying, "Sorry, we have to let you go because you repeat topics too much." Yet, that can be the criteria to fire workers with disabilities. Anyway, imagine Joe talking about the Cubs or something "too much." Well the researchers measured the amount of times the coworkers repeated topics and used that level as the criterion by which they would measure success for Joe. By the end of the study, Joe was talking about the Cubs no more or no less than the other workers. When the researchers went back and asked the employer and coworkers about how Joe was doing, they replied there was no difference.

Perception is everything. One must first determine where the problem is before one can formulate an intervention to address the problem. Are learning disabilities or mental retardation a result of the Fall? I am not entirely sure. I am less sure than Matthew Phelps about what should be included in the range of normal because I know too many "disabled" people who seem to get more normal the better I know them. However, I am sure that the manner in which persons with learning disabilities, mental retardation or other disabilities are treated by society, including the church, is most definately a result of the Fall.


1 comment:

KateGladstone said...

The research study you mention is important. Having a citation would allow me to find it, read it, and recommend it to others. Can you please provide that? (If you don't want to post the citation onto your blog, please e-mail it to me privately at handwritingrepair@gmail.com )

Re Matthew Phelps' clim that mental deficits which result from an injury "are a result of the Fall" — if he believes that, then he believes that pre-Fall human bodily organs (or at least the brain, which is one bodily organ) were designed so that no possible physical force would damage them. This, in turn, would have to mean that the laws of physics suddenly changed when Eve and Adam ate the fruit they stole — so that, before that moment, if a full-grown oak-tree or a large boulder had fallen upon Adam's head, even this (according to Phelps' notion) would not have damaged his issues in the least: Adam, with his skull impacted by a large, heavy object of ANY mass and acceleration, would have not had the concussion and subsequent cellular injuries that we experience when large heavy objects crash at high speeds into our own skulls or other living tissues.

Is this really probable, in your own view, that Adam's and Eve's brain-cells were originally indestructible by ANY physical force, however great?