Thursday, November 23, 2006

Viewing Disabled People as Childlike

Amanda Baggs has recently posted a thing about Bernard Rimland's death. John Best commented with a bunch of nasty comments, one of which was telling Camille that she should giver her child treatment for mercury poisoning 'so that it will be out of diapers someday'. As well as the reference to an autistic child (does Camille even have a child? I can't remember. If so, how would he know if xe is in diapers or not?) as it, this comment also shows the view that being in diapers all your life is a horrible thing.
Disabled adults are often compared to children, and disabled children to younger children than they are. Often this comparison seems meant to devalue disabled people. I've seen people say the same nasty things about newborns (claiming that there's nothing going on in their minds) as they do about severely disabled people. I've seen people describe disabled people as 'perpetual children' in a way that implies that being a perpetual child makes you less worthwhile.
Often disabled people react by insisting they are not like children. But they don't ask why it is that they are being compared to children, or why this should be a bad thing. What's wrong with being childlike? Why are disabled people so often compared to children?
It seems to me that the commonality is dependence. Disabled people and children need more assistance than nondisabled adults. Disabled people and children have more difficulty contributing in the strictly defined way that our society seems to value.
A lot of people seem to view children as being worthwhile mostly because they will be adults someday. People talk about children as 'the future'. It's like children are simply adults-to-be, and what worth there is to childhood itself is mostly in how it prepares you for adulthood. If you consider children's worth to be primarily that they'll be adults sometime, and the care given to them primarily as investing into our future, then a 'perpetual child' would be waste. A perpetual child would be receiving without giving, a burden on others. That is precisely how disabled people are viewed.
But I think there is worth in children besides who they'll be. I find worth in who a child is, right now. Children contribute, as children, things that, though they are devalued by society, are very worthwhile.

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