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

Friday, February 13, 2009

Adults as children

A friend of mine, recently sent me a link to his weblog. As I read it, I was impressed by his premise that adults with disabilities are really children because of their supposed "mental age" functioning. I have no idea why anyone would embrace the notion of mental age. I would be happy to go toe to toe with any psychologist over the issue. As an educator, it tells me nothing, absolutely nothing about a person. Well I take that back. It tells me that the person who uses mental age is very comfortable in using a way of describing people that demeans them. I have seen many mean things done in the name of mental age. And as I say, if you are told that I have a mental age of a 12 year old (I do in a lot of ways, and may I never change) what does that tell you about me? Does it tell you that I didn't really progress past 6 grade in terms of my understanding of mathematics? Does it tell you that I am a fun loving person with the heart of a child? Does it tell you that I am still going through puberty? I mean it is really not helpful. Then if you tell me that I have the mental age of a 3 year old, well, I just don't know what that means.

I recall when I was working in an intermediate care facility in the 1970's. It was at the time of deinstitutionalization. I had developed a friendship with a senior woman who liked to watch "The Guiding Light" every day. Some days I would watch with her. Because I was responsible for carrying out occupational therapy services designed by an OT, I had access to her chart. It indicated that her IQ was 27. I don't know what mental age that would translate to, but this was a woman whom I would discuss a soap opera with..."do you think Sarah's child is from Bob?" It is just not helpful. If you want a graphic example of this, view the Marc Gold video I have a link to in this blogsite.

But in my research meeting that I had the other day, I saw it again. We are to treat persons with intellectual disabilities as children. My response to that is that those people do not know people with intellectual disabilities. They let their socially constructed notions of who they are determine their actions towards them rather than attempt to find out the truth. It was fascinating, although discouraging, to me that the social constructions I was proposing to research were actually being acted out in front of me by those who were evaluating the research. Of course they were clueless to this fact and only saw themselves protecting my subjects.

Personally, I am constantly on the look out for those wrong notions of who disabled people are in myself. I really bugs me when I find one and wonder how I allowed that to exist in my psyche. People think they are protecting when in reality they are contributing to further wounding of devalued people. Revisit Wolfensberger's wounds in this blogsite. Ask God to help you see how you contribute to the wounding of others. It doesn't matter too much either whether or not you are well intentioned. I need to evaluate my best intentions in the light of what is true and if my intentions take me to a place where people are devalued, then I need to have the intellectual honesty to grow up and quit saying "I didn't mean it". If you keep doing something when there is the possibility that you can change through knowledge but you resist knowledge, then independent of your intentions, you should be blamed.

Adults with intellectual disabilities are adults.
If YOU treat them like children, YOU are wrong.
If you treat them like adults, they will rise to your expectations and drive you to repentence for the contribution you made to their wounding.



Julie said...

As my daughter with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder nears the legal definition of adulthood, this very issue has become a thorn in my mind. In fact, I will respectfully disagree with one of your statement.

[My response to that is that those people do not know people with intellectual disabilities]

Those people who know adults with a FASD, usually their adoptive parents, often (very often) describe their adult children as "middle age child" or "adult chld." The idea that those affected with FASD are perpetual children result in horrible public policies. Perpetual children are vulnerable. Services for my daughter, whose IQ is low normal, stop on her 18th birthday. She isn't eligible for work programs, medical assistance, low income or group housing. The future is very scary right now and I struggle to stay in the day.

ArtworkByRuth said...

Just found your blog searching for methods of fingerprinting disabled persons. We are in Ukraine adopting a 15 year old with limb differences. She will have to have "fingerprints" done at the US Embassy before being allowed to immigrate. Do you know what they do for persons without formed hands? She has been in an orphanage her whole life and would like to spare her as much embarassment by preparing her for what might be coming. I am also emailing the embassy. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Adults acting like children is about behavior and not the disability. If a person acts like an adult then they will be treated as an adult. Parents are not doing any favors allowing their disability child to act like one. For a lot of parents, it is an excuse not to be a parent. They need the discipline of manners like any other child. An example of this is: Throwing a temper-tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, not calling people names, say please and thank you, and dressing up like a cowboy or super-hero without a holiday or a party to go to just to name a few. The goal is to treat the disabled child as an adult until proven otherwise. Parets should not use the child's disability to excuse themselves from being a parent.

Anonymous said...

I agree that as "abled" human we tend to have lower expectations of disabled adults. This reminds me of the film "King Gimp" and how his Mom had high expectations and she did not enable him at all. He has lived his life to his full potential just as God has intended for us to live our lives.

We SHOULD set high expectations and allow people with disablities to reach for the stars just like we all dream for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Reading this blog, I was reminded of my aunt Cookie. Cookie is 67 years old. I'm not sure exactly what medical condition she has exactly, but all my life I've just been told her mental level is that of a second grader. If you walk into Cookie's room, she has all of the things that a second grader will have; a dollhouse, coloring books, and Barbie dolls. Cookie’s first language was Spanish, but she has learned English, and does a good job at communicating with us. I've never really thought about how we treat her until now. Hearing that some people treat older persons with disabilities like children, I'm so glad to say that my family does a great job at not falling into that category. Cookie is given the independence she should have. She has the respect of everyone in our family, because she is the eldest. Cookie loves sweets, so we keep the cookies and candy away from her when our family gets together, but other than that. She’s a adult.
It's sad to think that people do that. Adults are still adults, and should be treated as such. Disabled people don't know how to be anything different, and to them, there isn't anything wrong. Therefore, they should be treated with respect.

Anonymous said...

I just experienced this in one of my observations. The teacher was explaining to me that she sets strict rules in her classroom and she expects everyone to follow them no matter what disability they have. She says the children are often babied at home and have everything done for them. She holds them accountable at school and gives them responsibilities and they rise to the occasion. They know when they've messed up and know to go to the time out chair. Her class was very organized and functioned very smoothly. I did not expect this going into a moderate to severe class. She told me that these children are often capable of much more than we will ever ask of them, but we need to start asking and treating them like any other child to be able to see how far they will be able to succeed. Yes they do have disabilities, but we should not automatically set them aside to be put into the incapable group. They are capable of things and if we don’t want to put the effort into finding out what these things may be that is our fault.