Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The One Part of Some

I have spent the last half an hour frustrating myself. I was trying to find a link to a story that I saw referenced on a Facebook posting early this morning. I didn't read much of the story, just that a young person with Down Syndrome had 'snapped' on an airplane flight and attacked a couple of people. It was early, way to early to read this kind of article, I need to enter my day with positive affirmations and a cup of hot tea. I did notice the comment section of the post had people wondering what had happened before the outburst, what he might have been subject to, what the circumstances were that would explain this behaviour. The comments seemed to look for a reason behind the behaviour, which is laudable, but there was also a tone, in some, that once the reason was found then the behaviour would be excused or the blame located elsewhere.

I get this, and I get the concern. The very nature of difference means dealing with prejudice, means knowing that an act by one is seen as an act by all, means knowing that the whole story is never told - particularly if that story seeks to understand rather than inflame bias. A story about one young man with Down Syndrome who acts out on a plane becomes a reason for all people with Down Syndrome to be denied flights. If they applied that standard to movie stars and then first class would be empty most of the time.

It's important that we, as a community, keep the message clear. Inappropriate behaviour is inappropriate behaviour no matter who engages in it. The fact that someone with an intellectual disability in general or Down Syndrome in particular, engages in inappropriate behaviour is simply and indicator that that people with disabilities are just as likely as anyone else to have bad days, do bad things and have really bad moments. It's the 'one' part of 'someone' that people need to focus on. Just like when one person with an intellectual or physical disability climbs Everest means only that one person with an intellectual or physical disability climbed Everest. It doesn't mean more than that.

We are a long way from just being citizens representing only ourselves. I think of this some times when I'm dealing with someone. Will my behaviour or attitude or actions be seen as only mine or will they be seen as 'that's what people with disabilities are like' ... I don't want the burden of being poster boy for the movement, I don't think that anyone should bear that. We are all individuals, our achievements are uniquely ours, our idiosyncrasies are idiosyncratic.

This fellow on the plane, if the story is true, no matter what he did or why he did it - HE did it for HIS reasons. We are not required, as a movement, to explain away his behaviour or justify what he did - we do have a responsibility to ensure, as much as we can, that the full story is told and that his behaviour be seen in context. But cannot be seen to be saying that inappropriate and dangerous behaviour are acceptable when the person has a disability. We'll be our own worst enemies if we suggest that standards be lower for people with disabilities.

One person does what one person does.

That's really the long and short of it isn't it?


Annette said...

Nicely said Dave, we are all individuals and that comes with the right and responsibility of such. You are right when you say that people should not be penalized by the act of one, regardless of cause or issue, that we also should not judge or critique what we don't know of the story.

We do have some ways to go when these incidents are just an incident that doesn't cause this type of discussion, I look forward to that day.

Anonymous said...

Exactly - what one person does is what one person does. (In that moment.)
My adult son with autism is a great guy - but - and it's a big BUT - he has a propensity to panic and then lash out in close quarters. it is a horrible thing for him and everyone within his reach. It's a horrible thing to witness, quite frankly. That's why he doesn't fly (or do a few other things). There is no need to generalize it to other people. It's not even fair to generalize it to him.

Jan Goldfield said...

So true, Dave. But remember when flaming queens at Pride parades were the face of homosexuals everywhere. Now, sadly that man is the face of Down Syndrome flyers everywhere. Damn shame. It's to be expected tho, I think, in an age where we are not taught to think, but to accept what we are told as how things are. eg,TV, internet et al.

Lianna said...

As a mother to an eight year old boy, who has had to explain and justify to bystanders and family that it is important that my son understand what is acceptable social behaviour, I often feel judged inappropriately.

It is not unusual for me to hear that "God blessed me." or "'These' kids are so special. So loving." so others easily blanket his inappropriate behaviours with nonsense rendering me the "bad guy". Often I use the saying that I don't want to set up Gabe for failure in the future.

The other side of the emotional coin for me is the recent news story of Ethan Saylor. I think many of us are worried that the media and politics surrounding incidents of people with Ds are suspicious and perhaps malicious. The searching for answers is not unlike us trying to figure out what actually happened. We live in a world that exists on the perimeter of "normal" having to explain or justify or advocate for our children only because of myth.

Advocacy is a tricky thing, IMO. The desire to justify can be confused with the social boundaries in which we raise our children.

Glee said...

Yep. Exactly how I feel, all of it.

e wilson said...

i smell autism...my girl with DS is on the spectrum. We didn't have outbursts before.

it's rumored that the number of kids with DS that are on the spectrum is upwards of 33%

this is pretty typical behavior of over-stimulation, and being out of the comfort zone.

Problem being? peeps don't know. You cant get a diagnosis with kids like ours, because it's really easy for the medical professions to blame it all on the DS.

Blessings to that family. I stayed in denial for a couple of years, but at some point, you just have to follow your gut and do whats best for your kiddo, no matter how much you don't want it to be.

Krista Flint said...

One guy, one incident. Events like this happen all the time on flights. People often have difficult stuff to deal with, ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE. Having Down syndrome doesn't make you more or less likely to "snap". Nor does it make you more or less likely to be affectionate, hyper or a-sexual, or have a pre-disposition to bowling. Stereo-types limit people's self-expression and personhood in the most devastating ways.

Tyger said...

Forgive the tone of the article, but I'm betting this is the story that was referenced:


Anonymous said...

Having read the article, surely it can't be against flight rules for someone with Down's syndrome to travel alone!

Becca said...

I totally agree with you (and I strongly suspect that it was my wall post that you are referencing). But that story really, really seemed one-sided, seemed to be missing something, and had some inflammatory quotes all over it putting Down syndrome in a very negative light, possibly undoing so much good that's been done over the years to gain understanding and positive awareness from the general public. I would have questioned it no matter who the person acting out was. But yes, bad behavior is bad behavior.

Kristine said...

I get that your post wasn't really about the man with Down Syndrome. It was about how individual members of a minority group shouldn't be seen as representatives of the entire group. (I have an interesting story about that, actually.) But I have to admit, I'm curious about this individual and his story. Just like I'm curious any time there's a story of someone acting out violently or irrationally. What drove him to it? What's it like to have Down Syndrome, or any disability, in Saudi Arabia? I'd be interested in hearing his context and his story...

Anonymous said...

Yup, well said Dave!


Tamara said...

Yes, he behaved badly, and we shouldn't excuse it; but we should ask about the whole story because there may be things that others did that pushed him that they wouldn't have done with another passenger who didn't have Down syndrome. Robert Ethan Saylor shouldn't have refused to leave the theater, but neither should he have died because of it; so we need to question and work towards advocating for a different way to deal with those with intellectual disabilities in some situations.

I know many parents of children with Down syndrome have had those experiences, so we might have a tendency to question the story. Even though - most of the time - my son hears me supporting whatever punishment he received at school for his behavior, he doesn't hear me asking the questions about what happened and perhaps questioning the punishment - if it seems more severe than someone without a disability would have received.

I've found that he is often over-supervised and can't get by with the simplest of things that other students would get by with - simply because no on is watching them every moment. (For instance, asking him if he washed his hands when he comes out of the bathroom. No teacher stands at the door of the boys' restroom in middle school and asks typical boys that question.)

And the idea that what one person does is what one person does - yeh, well, read the comments on any article about the death of Robert Ethan Saylor. Generalities abound. I think the ones I hate most are the ones from people claiming to work with people with disabilities who talk about how strong and difficult adults with Down syndrome are. Always makes me wonder how those "professionals" are treating the people they work with - because behavior is communication whether it's acceptable or not.

Cynthia F. said...

Ta Nehisi-Coates has written about this issue as it affects African-Americans: the test of acceptance as a group is when you can be just ordinary - or even a screw-up - and have it be assumed that that's just you, not an example of what every black person is like.