Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Kids Who are Affected by Someone Who Has a Disability

Let me paint a picture for you. You're out with your child and they see someone in a wheelchair and ask "Mommy, what happened to them?". What would you say in response? Would you explain what you think may have happened to them, or say "Don't stare" and scold their curiosity?  Is there a proper way to react to your child's response, and if so, what is it? I bring this up because I believe that as parents and adults in society, we highly influence the little ones in our lives. Religious and political beliefs are often passed down generations, and beliefs about people with disabilities are no exception. 
Will you child grow up to believe that people with disabilities are human beings like everyone else?

I bring this to the forefront because our parenting styles will impact important areas of children's lives beyond the home. An example is when our children become old enough to go to school. All children want to play and be accepted by their peers, whether it is on the playground, in the classroom, or after school. Now imagine the child who is in a wheelchair on the sidelines. Although we may want to believe that they will be included in regular play, in reality, this is far from the truth. If children are not informed by their parents about people with disabilities and how they want the same things that any child wants, children are more likely to ignore, shy away from, or reject the child and not befriend them. In my own experience, I also found it hard to access the playground like other kids. If parents make more effort to inform their children about these issues, they are also more likely to speak with and influence teachers and the school board, who have the ability to make schools more accessible (e.g. by building accessible playgrounds or incorporating games that people with disabilities can play, such as throwing a ball). Also, children who grow up as disability advocates will advocate for people in schools, and possibly advocate for equal treatment for everyone (even beyond disability issues). All in all, the more that people talk about these issues, the faster we will see changes and start building successful futures for people with disabilities.

You may be thinking, "Well where to I begin with raising my children to be advocates for people with disabilities?". Good news: I can help (and I'm sure other people with disabilities have great advice too, so don't be afraid to politely ask). My first piece of advice is to teach your children that other children and people with disabilities are human beings too; they think, feel, love things, hate things, have dreams and goals, and have the human need to be loved and accepted. When we talk about the disability itself, we could invite our children to come up with ideas on how they can be more inclusive with other children with disabilities. How can they involve a child in play beyond playing on the playground, for example? Your child is going to have lots of questions, and please allow them! Questions are a great way for natural learning to take place - and your child should know that it is okay for them to ask children with disabilities questions too (while being respectful, of course). If a child does not feel like it is safe or right to ask questions, they will be too scared to approach or make a change in another child's life. 

Although not everyone will agree with me, I think we need to teach kids that it's okay to be friends with someone who is different from them in any way, shape, or form. This includes people with disabilities. For some reason, we seem to have come a long way with dealing with issues such as racism and sexism, but people with disabilities are still often seen as less-than human. We are people like anyone else with hopes and dreams, and we would love to get to know you too!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Building Trusting and Genuine Relationships Beyond the "Norm"

Imagine a couple walking down the street, holding hands, or eating at a restaurant. If nothing was out of the ordinary, would you continue on with your day and not give the couple a second thought? In modern society, the general consensus appears to be that relationships are healthy and expected if you fit into the narrow standard of "normal".

What is normal, you ask? Well, you may have unintentionally imagined a white, able-bodied male and female couple, which is not an unusual answer when we think of what has been socially acceptable throughout history. When you think of the media for example, are you more likely to see the above couple described - or an interracial couple? A homosexual couple? A societally stigmatized couple (e.g. a homeless couple)?

Yes, there have been improvements in the media when it comes to representing couples that do not fit the standard of "normal" that used to be strictly enforced. However, one group that I believe still falls through the cracks is people with disabilities - and specifically - where is the conversation that concerns people with disabilities dating people without disabilities? It seems like the only way people can see a person with disabilities having a romantic relationship is when they are paired with another person with disabilities. Why is this?

Is it so hard to believe that a stereotypically "normal" person could truly love and care for someone with a disability?  We raise our children to appreciate the differences of themselves and others; if this is actually enforced, why haven't people with disabilities been included into the dating pool? Some people may say: "Well you can't be with someone with a different intellectual ability etc.". But, is this entirely true? Is there anyone in your family that you love to death who does not match your intellectual abilities? 

It is also important to note that many people may assume that someone with a disability is automatically intellectually impaired, when in reality, there are multiple cases where a person's brain is in tact and they are still treated as if they are impaired. Some people even believe that we shouldn't be treating anyone as if they are "intellectually impaired" because our standards for intelligence don't encompass all types of intelligence (emotional intelligence, for example). 

Unfortunately, society has done an excellent job of making the assumption that people with disabilities do not date or have meaningful romantic relationships. This assumption is harmful because many people with disabilities may be raised to believe that they are not worthy or deserving of a meaningful, healthy relationship with another person (with or without a disability). Personally, I find it hard to believe that a "normal" able-bodied man would want to have a genuine relationship with me because I feel that I would be a burden or embarrassment on that person. How did I develop this belief? Maybe I would have a different, more positive belief about my worth in future relationships if I learned early on that difference was okay and expected? 

Also, another harmful result of these assumptions is that people with disabilities are not educated in what a healthy relationship would look like for them personally. How can you tell if someone new is truly wanting to get to know you, or if they are trying to get something out of you as a vulnerable person?  How can you trust that respect you as an equal person? How do you stay safe while still meeting new people?  It's sad to say, but even I have been personally sought out by scammers or strangers who want to victimize vulnerable populations, and I am not the only one! It becomes a day job realizing the true intentions of people.

Until the narrow standard of what "normal" is in relationships, I will continue to broaden the scope through sharing my experiences and mind with you all. I hope that the people that I know and love in my life will also continue to represent these underrepresented groups so that we can all enjoy healthy meaningful relationships in life. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Have you Heard of "Growth-Attenuation Therapy"?

Hi Everybody,

I found this article about "Growth Attenuation Therapy", it's intended for children with disabilities as a way to keep them smaller and lighter as they grow into their adult years. It is a way of stunting their growth so that the parents can continue to care for them on their own. Many parents don't like the idea of sending their child to a home or institution, so this ensures that they can care for their kids in their own home. This is a controversial "Therapy", because it technically is not curing any illness or improving upon any existing medical condition. The "therapy" significantly stunts the growth and development of the child for the sake of being more manageable to take care of. 

It's sad, we don't know if it really helps them, or perhaps slowly kills them. I don't like this therapy for making the kids stay little. What happens when the parents are simply too old to care for them anymore? Do they have family members that can come and look after them? Does the government come in and take over trying to do the right thing for the child? I don't believe the government cares and they put people wherever  there is room, but would that be the best fit for the child? These questions have to be answered. But perhaps the most pressing question is "Does the end justify the means"? Is it really worth it to have a smaller adult that you are able to care for on your own even if it means putting their body and mind at risk? Who knows if this affects their mental development as well. I know this therapy is given with good intention but that doesn't make it ethical. That's all I'm saying. 

Truly I think people are afraid of letting their child with a disability to go out in the world and see what life can bring them. This is where I have been lucky. I have a wonderful family and they do the right thing for me. I moved out of my parents house when I was 18 and lived in a group home for eleven years, and now I've been living with my best friend for the last five years. The truth is, I hate to say this my parents won't be around forever, so my sisters will have to look after me. I am so thankful for them. But on the other hand, I feel sad for parents who want their kid to stay at home because they don't want them to miss out on "normal" family experiences. I don't know if they have plans for them. All I'm saying is do the right thing for the child. It's going to look different for every individual and their family.

Here is the link to the article :’%20Picks&action=click&contentCollection=Magazine&module=Collection&region=Marginalia&src=me&version=spotlight&pgtype=article

If you get a chance to read it...