As a person who has disabilities I have experienced many moments of people underestimating me. This has happened throughout my schooling, both in childhood and adulthood. Countless times I have had teaching staff and fellow students advise me to choose an easier course (before they had even seen me struggling with the work) because they believed that I am incapable of doing courses that are intended for the abilities of most adults.
Another example I can give is that when some hear that I have a speech difficulty (with frequent practice I sound almost typical, just with a monotone and the occasional stuttered word or phrase) they speak to me as if I’m a two year old child. The same thing can happen when some know that I like to entertain myself with Lego, Minecraft, everything to do with Disney, Build a Bear items and my therapy plush toy of Gingy, from the Shrek films. In regards to my plush Gingy, he’s a therapy item whenever I’m stressed and he also brings me down during meltdowns (both within and outside of the house).
Despite having gotten moments like those mentioned frequently for many years, it still makes me feel very down about myself each and every time. My close brother who has an intellectual disability also feels very down whenever he is spoken to or treated like a toddler. Just because he has been assessed as having the average IQ of a child in primary school, it doesn’t mean that he hasn’t got the experience of a person who is 19 years old. He proudly says that he’s a grown man now and wishes to be treated like one, regardless of whether or not he has a disability.
I too proudly say that I’m now well and truly a grown woman. Being unnecessary treated and spoken to like a young child at 31 years of age largely affects my self-esteem.
However there is another end of the scale which is equally distressing. That’s when our abilities are not underestimated, but overestimated instead.
Due to there currently being very little understood about disabilities in general society, it seems from personal experience that it’s very unusual for my abilities and disabilities to be estimated correctly.
In my case many assume that just because I am mostly verbal and have been assessed as having an IQ in the high average range, I should be doing more than what my disabilities allow. After many years of therapy I have learned to manage my anxiety enough for me to be able to do and cope with casual and part-time work. At the age of 16 it was speculated by doctors that I would never be able to work, so I am feeling very pleased with myself. My family, therapists and friends who have known me for years are also very pleased. Yet there are still some judgmental people who believe that I’m not doing enough, and that I should by my age have a full-time job.
The medication I am on, which has helped with bringing my anxiety down to a level where I can cope with work of any kind has also, unfortunately, made driving a car an impossibility for me. Clearly I can only choose one thing, and working to make my own money is my personal preference. Though a fair few still criticise me for not being able to both work and drive at the same time. Many still assume that it’s always easily possible to have the best of both worlds.
While many currently downplay my autism as just being “a slight a behaviour quirk that many are labeled with these days” and not being a condition that greatly affects my life; my siblings (who have a disability) experience the same misconception when people assume that having an Intellectual Disability means that they merely have a minor learning difficulty, of which isn’t significant enough to make it too difficult to live an unsupported life.
Those examples given were very generalised descriptions of what our family have experienced personally, very often. Experiences with my abilities being either underestimated or overestimated give me a lot of anxious feelings, and they do with my siblings too. Also, our parents themselves get very frustrated whenever they hear about our support needs being mistakenly perceived in either of those ways. It’s true that they are equally as upset as me and my siblings are.
So, the absolute best which is needed for us not to feel this way, is for the general characteristics of each disability to be known by wider society. Every disability has its own generalised characteristics and each individual person has their own personality.
But once more people understand about both the names and general characteristics (which doesn’t involve too many things to remember) of each disability, it will be easier for everyone to live their life with less anxiety and confusion. It’s true that there are (and always will be) the occasional few people who will never understand for various reasons (which may not always be their own fault), or even worse will be too ignorant to accept disabilities regardless.
Yet the vast majority of people we come across care very much when they unknowingly hurt our feelings. In fact almost all have said to us that they wish that they had been better informed about what each disability is. They even say that they’re very pleased that a large part of my career involves me giving a personal account of what it’s like to have a disability, and about my desires for what I strongly feel are needed in this world.
I’m so very pleased that more and more people, with disabilities of all kinds are sharing their own life stories with society (in various kinds of ways), with the intent of creating a more accepting and non-judgemental world.
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From my personal perspective, everybody has different genetic appearances. No two sets of eyes, mouths or any other physical features look 100% the same. This is even the case with siblings who are monozygotic. So, therefore, identifying facial expressions is just as difficult a task for me as choosing a grain of sand, and then trying to identify that after it has been randomly mixed amongst billions of others in a box is.