The Infantilization of Disabilities

Valerie Rice | June 18, 2021

Screaming at someone who can’t hear

If you have ever sat in a room of people who are trying to determine the fate of someone with disabilities, you probably know what I am going to say. The goal of every IEP, 504, or adult version of these meetings is to create goals for someone else. Goals for daily life and behavior. Once this meeting is over, the person in question is judged based on how they meet these goals. Worse yet is how some people take an individual to task over how they respond to other people’s opinions about how they should behave and live their lives. Now, in theory, a person’s desire’s is taken into account. 


Most of us know that a person who is disabled ends up with very little actual input and their wants and needs are shoved aside in favor of how a typical person believes they should act. A perfect example of this would be the forcing of a day program for adults. I worked with adults who have developmental disabilities for years, and only once did I find someone who’s wishes were respected. Why? Because the idea was that a “normal life” required intense socialization and needed to look as close to an average work day as possible. This is a bunch of crap. Not only do most people despise this routine in general, but for people who are physically and mentally not capable of fitting this standard, this ideal is a living hell. 


Photo by Sigrid Abalos on

For a person who is nonverbal communication is key. While this sounds obvious, it really isn’t. The average human defaults to words, a highly ineffective method of communication, and only part of the human spectrum. Click here for more information on that. While most people rely on nonverbal communication unconsciously, the rest of us analyze every aspect of your being intensely. You are giving off more information than you intend. SO. When someone is repeatedly ignored in their attempts to communicate because the only thing the average person listens to are words, they nonverbally yell. In other words, they “misbehave” and are punished. Like a child. Now, in my opinion, if they had listened the first time, they wouldn’t have been bitten, or punched, or whatever. Am I defending violence? No. I am saying that it is not a disabled person’s job to teach you how to listen. It is the average person’s job to learn how to communicate before getting into someone else’s business. Instead of punishing someone for communicating, take a step back and try to identify where and when it got derailed. That doesn’t mean that some people aren’t just violent jerks, it means that this isn’t the default. So the self centered norm needs to go out the window.


I am glad you got to his point. The best way to help is to pretend it is you. Pretend that you are the one who has absolutely no control over your life at the age of 50, and some uppity 25 year old is telling you that spending all day with condescending staff who hate their jobs and are forcing you to do puzzles and eat nasty applesauce with that dude you despise every damn day and…. Oddly specific isn’t it? Yeah. You can see it in the eyes. Imagine someone telling you, a grown adult, that you are not allowed to have a beer with your steak because someone else decided that your IQ was too low. Would you tolerate that? No. So just have empathy for others because adults, regardless of ability, are quite capable of knowing what they want out of life. So instead of jumping in with noble intentions, try slipping in quietly and learning who a person is. Once you find their world and learn to communicate, advocate for how they want to live their lives instead of trying to force them into some strange idea of what should be done.


I am absolutely NOT advocating for a diet of dry Froot Loops and Pepsi while lying in bed all day watching shadows. I AM saying stop trying to force people to fit a mold they never will. Not only is it ableist, it is traumatic, and punishing someone for not wanting to comply is a dick move. So don’t be a dick. Love you guys, Be Well!

Published by vrice2010

A mother, an author, a nerd. After many years working in the fields of mental health and developmental disabilities, graduating from the University of Phoenix, and pouring my talents into my local community, I decided to spread my wings and reach a wider audience.

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