Not Replacements for Normal Children

Over at Alas, Kay Olson is talking about the weird ad campaign for the NYU Child Study Center which seems clearly designed around the idea that there are a whole host of things–ADHD, autism and related things, eating disorders, and OCD, for instance–that rob you of your normal children and replace them with fucked up kids whose lives are ruined unless you get help for them.

And I love what the folks from the Autism Self-Advocacy Network say in response to that:

Individuals with disabilities are not replacements for normal children that are stolen away by the disability in question. They are whole people, deserving of the same rights, respect, and dignity afforded their peers.

I know I go on about my dear, dead Uncle B. a lot.  But he was like a second father to me and I miss him dearly and so there you go.  Anyway, he always insisted that he was “crippled.”  To him, that felt like an accurate description of what had happened to him.  He didn’t feel “disabled” because he was still able to do everything he wanted to do.  And he would say that “handicapped” didn’t really feel right to him either, because he felt like it implied he was at some kind of disadvantage that other people around him needed to compensate for.

I’m not sure, but I think that, for him, terms like “disabled” and “handicapped” implied some kind of ongoing state of deficiency–of being seen as being in a state of ongoing not quite normal, not quite regular.

And for him, to call himself crippled (not that he would have stood for others calling him that, I don’t think), said that his life was going one way, something happened to him (he was crippled), and from that point, his life went another way and something different than before became his normal, regular life.

What I find gross about the ransom notes is the implication that your kids’ problems are problems because they’re not normal, because they’re not things that happen to normal people, that it’s a state of abnormality so severe it’s like having your child kidnapped.

When really, what they’re going through is normal–in terms of it happening to a lot of people and in terms of it being a component of their regular lives.

I’m not saying that people with these conditions shouldn’t get treatment or that parents shouldn’t seek treatment for their children.  We all need help of all sorts to get by in this world and there’s no shame in seeking it out.

But, it’s exactly because there’s no shame in seeking help that trying to alarm and shame parents (“If your kid were taken from you by kidnapping, you’d get help; your kid has been taken from you by [whatever], why won’t you get help?”) into seeking it is gross.

3 thoughts on “Not Replacements for Normal Children

  1. You are so right. My sister-in-law is really into “person first” language, so you aren’t crippled or handicapped or disabled, you are a person who is disabled. It’s kind of a cool idea, but complicated to use consistently. I think the goal is to do what you said– remind you that these are normal people.

    Anyway, the descriptions on those ads are horrific and seem pretty over the top.

  2. I wonder how long it will take for this mindset to creep into people’s subconscious. I mean, i imagine that for years, anyone afflicted with damn near anything was ostracized for it. I know that medicine is catching up, but people’s attitudes will no doubt lag behind for some time.

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