Disability and Double Standards

A few days ago, Ellen of Love That Max wrote a post on double standards in the parenting of special needs children. As an example, she said that she repeats the same phrases over and over again if Max asks her to, but tells Max’s sister to stop nagging about the same topic. Max clearly showed that he was learning the skill Ellen tried to teach his sister but not yet him, ie. the knwoledge that the world does not revolve around him. Nonetheless, some commenters got to talking to Ellen like she was indulging on Max and in fact, Nisha, herself a disabled blogger, said Ellen needs to start treating Max like a neurotypcal child.

Nisha has a good point when she says that the world will not indulge on Max when he’s big. Max, too, needs to learn the knowledge that the world does not revolve around him. However, as Ellen said in the original post, she did unconsciously teach him this by repeating his preferred phrase with some “stop talkign about that” mixed in and in an irritated tone of voice. Maybe the repeating of the phrase was one of the things which taught Max to pay attention to what was being said, ie. that he needed to stop talking about this.

What annoyed me in Nisha’s comment, was the idea that disabled people need to be treated like they aren’t disabled. As I said, I totally agree that they need to learn basic lessons of social behavior, but I do not see why this needs to be done the same way that you would teach a neurotypical child. If repeating a phrase helps a neurodiverse child learn, what’s wrong with using that phrase in parenting? Ellen might in fact learn to use the phrase in different intonations and variations to teach Max skills like awareness of others.

My point is, when you use different rules for different children (whether they have disabilities or not), you are not necessarily indulging on them. You are just getting on their level and teaching them to move up from there. Expecting a neurodiverse child to behave like a neurotypical, is not realistic. It will not make their neurodiversity go away. In my own case, it just set me up for constant failure.

Of course, you need to have a positive attitude about any child’s or adult’s abilities. They need to become the best they they can be. That, however, is not the most neurotypical, but the most able. Let’s make a comparison: when I still had some sight, one could’ve said that I needed to be treated like a sighted person and expected to use my vision as much as possible. That is not encouraging me to be the best me I could be. Rather teaching me brailel and cane travel are. Similarly, autistic or otherwise neurodiverse people need to learn some basic skills, but they can be taught these skills in an alternative way. Look at the bigger picture of the knowledge that the world does not revolve around you, rather than at the tiny piece about the use of repetitive phrases.

5 thoughts on “Disability and Double Standards

  1. Interesting discussion, but don't you think it would be confusing for both the children that they aren't treated equally? I think they will both notice this eventually. Isn't it possible to find a comprimise? I think treating them differently will also cause problems. It certainly won't be easy for the neurotypical child to adapt to the fact that the other child is treated differently. But will it be easy/better for the neurodiverse child? I doubt it, the child will surely not live with his/her understanding parents for ever, will it?

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  2. I agree with you, Astrid. Everyone should be treated according to their ability. As the mother of 7 neuro-typical children and 2 with disabilities I am constantly wondering if my expectations for my disabled children are reasonable and how much I should encourage/ push them academically and behaviorally. I have always made accommodations for them. We do not expect someone who can't walk not to use a wheel chair. I believe in the same way we should not expect children with neurological disabilities to act the same as neuro-healthy kids! BTW, thanks for visiting Living and Learning With Our New Normal.

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  3. Would a tuba player receive the same music as a flutist? Would a trumpet player learn the same fingerings as a clarinetist because they both play a B flat instrument? No. Would percussionists breathe with the band? Maybe. Would a band director give first and second parts according to experience? Yes. Fair is not always equal because everyone has different abilities, talents, motivations, ways of thinking, and plans for their life.

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  4. Interesting thoughts here. Controversial…a bit. But, interesting. Maybe there's another thought, something we do for our 17yo daughter with cerebral palsy. Yes, we have different standards. But, no they aren't the same as we might have for her nuerotypical sister. Instead, we expect her to move ONE STEP CLOSER to the expectations we have for her sister until she is (1) meeting the same expectations; or (2) is doing the best she can and will ever do. Just another thought…. (Visiting from "Love That Max"!)

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  5. We treat our children differently, because they are individuals, with their own set of talents, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, anxieties and phobias. One happens to have AS, but they all know we have high expectations of them, and will accommodate and support their needs according to their capabilities. One (NT) has food anxieties, and our expectations at mealtimes of him are different from the rest of the family, for example.
    You wouldn’t expect a child with 1 leg to run as fast as a child with 2 healthy legs (at least, until he has blades fitted!) so whyever would one have the same expectations of people universally?

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