What are we teaching people?

Imagine this…

An able bodied student/peer named J has been put in ‘charge’ of a fellow student who has a Intellectual Disability (ID), named P. J (who’s in charge) reports that P has to be taken out of the school cafeteria because he kept asking for pizza instead of his tuna sandwich he had brought from home.

J reported P was having ‘bad behaviour’ because he repeatedly asked for pizza, even after the answer was no. The answer was no although, P is an adult by law, had money in his bag, thousands of high school students buy pizza everyday and he asked nicely each time. Apparently there were many reasons he was ‘bad.’

I thought about how I feel when a client asks me about things repeatedly. Its not ‘bad’…It’s annoying. I usually move away from the thing of interest, out of sight, out of mind.

I wonder how many people J told this story? P probably listened to people talk about him, in front of him, and t was told he was having ‘bad behaviour’.

‘Bad behaviour’? I knew J didn’t come with this on their own, he was told that this is what ‘bad behaviour’ looks like.
I thought of all the people in the day that are responsible for kids and young adults who have a disability all day while they are at school, teachers, Educational Assistants, interpreters. And students? Shouldn’t students be friends, not bosses, or not ‘in charge’ of someone?

Who is teaching an able bodied student that they have the right to tell a student who has an ID what to do, boss them around or even call them ‘bad?’ In some cases, does the student even know why it’s ‘bad’? Someone of authority has told them its ‘bad’. Students are taught not to question authority, period! Furthermore, someone who has an ID may do things that another student may not understand.

Why aren’t we teaching peers of students who have an ID? To be supportive, be a friend, not get caught up in the power they have over someone else. Even if it’s small amounts of power. Teach them how to react with dignity for themselves and their friend. If the student has a behaviour they don’t understand, they shouldn’t be left to deal with it.

What we teach students in school about someone who has an ID, is just as important as any academic class they may take.

It makes me angry everytime I’m in a conversation with someone, I tell them what I do and they say, “I work with THOSE kids…” or “I used to watch a disabled kid in high school at lunch time. He was a handful.” When I question people on those remarks, they never know what to say. Something that was so positive in their lives, they have ruled off as, unimportant or a handful. People always almost remember the praise they got for it. How grateful teachers were to them. Not that they shouldn’t, however it is worth while to think of what they could teach someone with their new knowledge. Teach how to befriend of someone who has ID and any special need for that matter? It’s always important to see the good in someone, no matter their ability. I believe every person who has a disability wants to be accepted, but more than acceptance, they want the ones close to them to SEE them. See them for who they really are, personality wise, supporting them through their behaviour (which they may or not be able to control. Obessesive Compulsive Disorder, sensory, spaticity, etc).

I thought about it for a long time. I thought, what can I do to change the poor messages that we send? I slip too, I admit it.

The more I thought about it, I realized, we don’t just learn by words, we also learn by example. People see ME, and how I treat my client is a reflection of how I SEE them. I see them as people with different personalities, and treat them how I would want to be treated.
Let’s start teaching with our healthy words and actions and advocating for those who can’t advocate for themselves. I looked up to someone and learned from her. I’ve been passing the buck by training the staff I do have and others who look up to me ever since.  Whether someone works for me or not, I try and use teachable moments to show all the good parts of someone else!

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