Patronizing the Mentally Disabled Should Not Be Acceptable in Our Society

We are at the end of Autism Awareness month and several people are attempting to showcase knowledge of the disability. In fact, us as a generation are attempting to create more awareness of special needs kids in general. However,  it’s funny to think how despite our society’s greater understanding and awareness of mental disability, many of us still don’t know how to treat those who are disabled.

Now, I’m not talking about those who actively hate against those with mental problems or those who don’t see them capable of having stable careers and lives. While those are problems, most people understand that these are issues. I don’t think many people would My main concern is the way many young teens, and even adults, tend to see only a disability and not the person behind it.

This is something I have noticed throughout my life. It’s saddening that people have never brought up these behaviors or even discouraged others from doing them. What I tend to notice with those who interact with disabled people is how they show off a more patronizing personality. They’ll often perk up their voice, act overly chipper and talk in a manner they would to a small child. This mainly occurs in people with developmental disabilities like Autism or Down’s Syndrome, though this happens throughout the special needs community. When I see somebody talk like this, that’s sending me a signal that they’re more focused on the disability than the person they are talking to. It is disingenuous and gives off the implication that the person who is disabled won’t care or mind.

Now, I’m not saying these people are inherently bad human beings, and I do understand where the people are coming from. Assistance is required for some people with developmental disabilities and there should be a certain amount of awareness of their issues to make their lives easier. Being nice to somebody who is disabled doesn’t always mean you’re being patronizing. But when you start putting a fake persona of yourself because you’re more concerned about the disability than the person’s feelings, that’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

We also need to recognize that not all people who are disabled are as deeply impacted by their condition. Some are way more high-functioning than others and should be treated in a more adult manner. For example, some people with autism may have savant tendencies or could be really low functioning, but others could be higher functioning or more on the level of Aspergers.  But these higher functioning individuals still be talked down to like their little kids. When you treat all people with a disability the same way, you’re basically showing that all those with a disorder are the same and ignores all the complexities of mental issues. Some are more likely to recognize the patronizing and become humiliated by the teens and adults manner of speaking.

It’s not just the fact that talking to the mentally disabled like that is dishonest and condescending, but the fact is that it can create serious psychological problems for the person as they continue to live. Many could become resentful towards other people and the way that others treat them, causing a disconnect between them and the public eye. They could have a hatred for their disabilities and resent the special classes and education they receive. They could have difficulty with social interaction and with attempting to achieve greater things in fear that they only get what they want due to being disabled. I should know because that’s exactly what I went through.

Being a kid who has suffered from Autism and has been a special ed student for most of my life, I have repeatedly dealt with those who have acted patronizing towards me due to my disability. As I got older, it became obvious what they were doing, which made me begin to doubt myself and my own disorder. For a long time, whenever somebody gave me a compliment, I never knew if they were being genuine or if they were just saying that because they knew I was autistic. I was slumped into the bubble of special needs and despite feeling more than capable of going beyond my limitations, many still saw me as the autistic boy. It made me feel unmotivated and I avoided taking risks and making friends out of fear of being patronized. I felt isolated and thought that I was worthless because I was disabled. I began to become resentful about my disability and felt disconnected with the people around me, thinking that they only pretended to like me because of my autism. For the longest time, I never even told people that I was on the spectrum to avoid judgment and so people would treat me like a normal human being. My autism felt like a burden all because a majority of people didn’t see me, but only my disability.

I’m aware that my views can’t change an entire society’s perspective on the mentally disabled. People will still treat those with a disability like children, feeding them dishonest messages that could damage their self-esteem.The public will still not recognize the disabled as human and slump them into a category where nobody’s unique and lesser impacted individuals apparently don’t exist. Society will still ignore the psychological effects of treating the mentally disabled in a patronizing way, causing resentment and anger towards their fellow humans and their own disability. But change is only gradual. What you should take away from reading this is that people are people regardless of whether they have the same mental capacity as you. To all who take this message seriously, please remember. See a person, not a label.