Social Circles, Segregation and Disabilities

The social life of a person with intellectual disabilities is often studied and looked at only from one variable—that of interacting with  others who have or do not have  an intellectual disabilities.  From this model, the  social life is often seen as segregated and isolated with few contacts other than family or paid providers.  There have been some recent postings on various sites about people with disabilities and friends (My Child’s Dream to Have Friends 51 People) and it made me think more about social circles and who is in them.

This is the reality of the situation when a person needs the assistance of another person to interact with others, to take turns in a game, need verbal or physical cues to manage life skills, to  go out to events or attend groups, go to the store , go to the doctor or any other outing which entails leaving the home and no amount of social engineering will change this.

Rather than focusing on the one variable of disability and looking at all contacts as having a disability or not, try looking at social contacts from various angles—what type of people does one interact with?

When looking at social circles from this perspective I think that one may find that the person with intellectual disabilities is much more integrated with a variety of people from various cultures and walks of life than those of us without disabilities.

How many adult women have equal men and women friends?  How many adults have daily contact with people from many different countries and cultures?  How many adults have daily contact with people from all walks of life—from highly paid professionals (doctors and health care providers) to some of the lowest paid workers in our community  – the  caregivers who  work so hard caring for our loved ones? How many have daily contact with people of all ages from college students to the elderly?

I know that my son  learns about many countries and cultures—he knows and experiences various foods from different countries and knows they may have a different religions.    He notices differences and asks about them but he does not make judgments and discriminate—he accepts things as they are.

All people are equal in his eyes—gay people, straight people, poor people, rich people, Black people, Asian People, White people, people who “talk funny” (have an accent because English is their second language) handicapped people in wheelchairs or needing walkers,  people with multiple tattoos and piercings (people who may look scary to me),  yet my son accepts all people equally.  He does not discriminate.

Yes, my son does notice differences and comments on them—sometimes this is difficult in public because in our culture this is taboo.  He is just observant and wants to know about people.    He has opened my world to meeting people from all over the world who I never would have met except for the fact that he asks everyone “What country are you from?”  If I stayed in my own little world and social circle and didn’t travel with him I would have missed out on these opportunities.

Yes, my son does live in a supportive community with others who have intellectual disabilities but his life is far from segregated—it’s completely the opposite and if one examined their own social circle from variables other than if one is disabled or not, we would see very different connections and realize that those who we may think are the most isolated and segregated are actually quite the opposite.



I’m just a Mom

I’m just a mom.  I’m not a politician, I’m not a public speaker, I’m not a professional debater. I have no education in how to be an advocate.  I’m learning as I go and I’ve been a steep learning curve lately.

I’m a mom with a passion for safe, quality care for our most vulnerable community members.

From the time I was a kid, I remember being friends with the kids in my neighborhood who had disabilities.  I say that now but at the time I never thought about them as having disabilities.  They were just my friends.

One girl was deaf and wore her hearing aid (I think it was a hearing aid – I don’t really know, it was just part of what came with her) on a harness strapped to her chest with wires going to her ears.  She couldn’t really talk but I remember spending a lot of time with her playing in the yard.

Another one of my friends had artificial legs and deformed arms.  She used to go to my elementary school until about 3rd grade and then she was sent to another school.  I have no idea where she went but occasionally I see her around the old neighborhood.  It has to be her – there couldn’t be too many people with the same issues.  I remember trying to roller skate with her.  I have no idea why she had to go to another school – maybe I should ask my mom about her and find out.

One of my very good friends had a brother who had to use a wheelchair.  Again, I have no idea why and didn’t care.  We played with him and he let us use his chair and we’d like to pretend we needed it sometimes too.  He was just one of the crowd and he was either in his chair or rolling of the floor.  That’s just who he was.

My next door neighbor had to go to school on a special bus yet our elementary school was a half block from our house.  I wonder where he went – he seemed perfectly normal to me.

This is just a sample of my friends – people were just people.

Later in high school, one of my best friends had a tumor that grew from her face and she only had one eye.  I never saw it – I only saw her.  I forgot that others may see her differently and sometimes was told “why didn’t you tell me she had that on her face?” after introducing her to people.  I didn’t because I didn’t see it and it never occurred to me to point it out or warn people.

Advocating and caring for those less able is not something I do because I have a son who has an intellectual and functional disability, it’s something that I have done my whole life.  I do not speak up about my passion for safe care because my son needs it – I speak up because it’s the right thing to do.  Sure, sometimes my emotions get out of control  – but again, I’m a mom.  What mom has not let her emotions get in the way sometimes?

I care deeply about safe, quality care – not only for our son but for all of our most vulnerable community members.   I need to be the voice for our son and his peers.

I speak from my heart – not always the best approach in our world but that’s who I am.