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What Could Be: Employment Possibilities

  • Posted on February 12, 2014 at 10:00 AM

I’ve just learned about a new program through the WI BPDD: Let’s Get to Work. This program presents its goals as being:

  • Earlier connection to vocational rehabilitation
  • Early work experiences while still in high school (paid and unpaid)
  • Better transition training for teachers
  • No entry for youth straight into segregated work settings
  • Access to transportation to get to work
  • Person centered planning to identify interests, strengths, skills
  • Engage the broader community and decision makers in discussions of youth employment
  • Access to general education core/academic classes and extra-curricular activities as they relate to the students’ interests and career goals
  • Connect students and their families to information on post-secondary and career options, work incentive benefits counseling, and community activities, starting no later than age 15.

It’s only at the pilot stage. But it’s promising, so promising… But it’s not the transition environment my family must navigate.

What Is: Employment Possibilities

  • Posted on February 10, 2014 at 10:00 AM

The frustration is ever-present. I look at my sons: Willy, Alex, and Ben. I see their potential. They are different children with different interests, different abilities, and different futures. I see how bright their futures could be.

But, when I look around at what is within my community, the future turns dark. Sure, Willy’s potential and abilities are well-recognized. After all, he’s close enough to normal for those charged with preparing him for the future to see something bright ahead of him. But, then there’s Alex, who is not normal, not even close. He’s gifted and talented, but also significantly disabled. The future proposed for him involves sheltered workshops and a lifetime of dependence and poverty.

I’ve visited one of these workshops for an article I wrote. The people were kind, caring, and committed to the people with developmental disabilities in their care. The entire environment was devoted to giving these people, who were believed by some to be incapable of work, an opportunity to work and to socialize and to participate in their community. The people I spoke to believe in what they do and believe that what they do is in the best interests of their workers.

Yet, I also know that there are instances of abuse in workshops just like that. I know these environments are segregated. I know the work they do is menial, not artistic. I know they are paid subminimum wages. I know that these people often go “home” to group homes where professional caregivers halfheartedly tend to their needs.

This is better than what used to be, but it’s far from what could be. And it’s not good enough for my son. It shouldn’t be good enough for anyone.

Sexual Tension

  • Posted on August 19, 2013 at 10:00 AM

It’s perfectly natural for us to want to protect our children from sexual misconduct—whether our children are kids or adults. We don’t want our children to be victims of someone else’s sexual misconduct, and we certainly don’t want our children to be perpetrators of sexual misconduct.

When our children have developmental delays, it can be easy to see our children as perpetual kids. And kids, we’d like to think, aren’t sexual beings. Therefore, in our minds, our children aren’t sexual beings.

We like to think this because it’s easier than dealing with uncomfortable realities, like our children’s sexuality.

After all, sexuality is difficult enough to deal with when you’re a typically-developing adult. And the sexuality of our children is difficult enough to deal with when you’re the parent of a typically-developing teenager. Add in an individual with developmental delays and a continued fascination with child-like interests, and it can be very difficult to even acknowledge our children are also sexual beings, let alone talk to them about it.

But this willful ignorance comes at a cost.

Most people with developmental disabilities, like most people without developmental disabilities, express their sexuality in more or less acceptable ways, all things being equal. A few people with developmental disabilities, like the few people without developmental disabilities, engage in sexual deviance that is predatory in nature. Contrary to recent hype, neither quality has anything at all to do with whether or not someone is developmentally delayed.

But people with developmental delays are at a disadvantage, because all things aren’t equal. Society—including many of the people who exert control over the lives of people with developmental disabilities—have actively repressed their sexuality for decades. And we’re still doing it!

My mom used to work at a group home for people with developmental disabilities. They were housed in homes called CBRFs, which was basically a bridge between “normal” living and institutionalization. Some of the people she came to know had been forcibly sterilized. Others engaged in uncontrolled masturbation.

One of the group homes she didn’t work at specialized in housing sexual predators. These were people with uncontrollable sexual impulses who were “allowed” to prey on each other, because at least then they weren’t preying on those who didn’t share their compulsions.

So, the question is this: Are these people natural, normal predators? Are they so profoundly broken that they couldn’t possibly control their sexual impulses? Or is our denial of their innate sexuality part of the problem?

Sexual mores are learned. They are taught by society and the people in society. They change over time. Once upon a time, having an affair with a married man would make you a social outcast. Now, casual sex is tolerated, even encouraged. At least, for typically-developing individuals.

Granted, our sexual history is more complex than that, but when you compare sexual practices across cultures and over time it becomes apparent that sexual mores are learned. And this means that if we want people with developmental disabilities to know them, then we have to teach them. If we want people with developmental disabilities to abide by them, then we have to acknowledge that they do have sexual impulses. We have to give them safe, responsible ways to express their sexuality—which may or may not include abstinence—based on shared mores. In short, we have to educate them and then give them opportunities to choose for themselves, which is the same thing we should do for everyone else!

Burying our heads in the proverbial sand because we find it discomfiting is not a solution. It simply creates more problems and denies the people we love and care about one of their basic human rights—to be masters of their own bodies and to make informed choices about their own sexuality.