Friday, January 13, 2012

Deep thoughts about Jack, and people with disabilities

I've been thinking a lot about Jack Jablonski this week.  He's the high school hockey player here in Minnesota who was injured during a game, and will live the rest of his life as a paraplegic.  His story is just so tragic.

I think it's his parents, though, who I am most sad for.  It's his parents I can relate to.  I relate to the grief over losing the child you thought you were raising, and coping with the prospect of raising a child you never imagined you'd have, and doing it all instantly because there isn't time to go to bed and cry when you are a parent.

I am thinking that Jack is going to be a great example of something, though.  He doesn't know it yet and neither do his parents.  But it's so easy to look at a child with a disability he or she was born with, and only see the disability.  If all you've ever known is the child with autism, or the child with Down Syndrome, or the child with cerebral palsy who is in a wheelchair, right from the get-go you make assumptions about what that child is going to be able to accomplish in life.  Or not accomplish.  Before you have a chance to get to know that child, you already know he or she is saddled with a diagnosis, a label, that will change how everyone perceives him or her.  How that child perceives him or herself.

When you hear that a friend's child was diagnosed with autism, immediately you have ideas in your head of what that child is like.  Right?  I know I do.

I think, though, people are a lot less likely to make those assumptions when someone's disability occurs mid-life, to someone who was born entirely typical, able-bodied and able-minded.

Is Jack any less valuable a person, now that he won't have the use of his legs?  Of course not.

Is he less smart?  Is he less important?  Is he less HUMAN?

Of course not.

Shouldn't it be that way, for every person with a disability?

No matter how they came about it?

Let's all think on that for awhile.

 I read once that with innovations in protective head and body gear, in the last few years soldiers being injured in Iraq and/or Afghanistan or elsewhere are much more likely to survive their injuries, and come back home with a disability. This means we have more disabled vets than ever before.

It would stand to reason that this would hold true with people injured in other ways, as well.  Medical advancements are saving lives every day, but not necessarily returning them to "normal." Which means there must be more people in general living with disabilities today than there have ever been.

This is good news - saving lives is good news!

Now we need to stop allowing people who have a disability to be discriminated against.

We need to stop assuming we know what a person has to offer, based on a word, a phrase, a medical term, or our first overall impression.

“I know of nobody who is purely autistic, or purely neurotypical. Even God has some autistic moments, which is why the planets spin.”
— Jerry Newport (Your Life is Not a Label: A Guide to Living Fully with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome)

“In an ideal world the scientist should find a method to prevent the most severe forms of autism but allow the milder forms to survive. After all, the really social people did not invent the first stone spear. It was probably invented by an Aspie who chipped away at rocks while the other people socialized around the campfire. Without autism traits we might still be living in caves.”
— Temple Grandin (Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism)

We need to stop seeing people with disablities, and start seeing people with abilities that might not be so obvious.

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