Slumped back in the chair distractively answering the questions like I was the stupidest person on earth. Hair dyed bright yellow, not blond, yellow. Cell phone flipped open, reading texts as they came in. I didn't know if I should put down as his primary diagnosis 'mild intellectual disability' or 'profoundly teen.'
Teens with a disability are a whole new breed from what I'm used to. "We found for integration and inclusion and got ... this." I thought as I continued on with the intake meeting. Then he looked up at me and said, "So why are you in the wheelchair?" I made a joke, "Because I can't walk." He took it as an answer rather than an attempt at sarcasm - which I thought he'd enjoy - you know, speaking in his native tongue. So I let it drop and continued on.
"Ask me why I didn't sit beside you." Once again he was looking intently at me. I had noticed that he sat a bit away but I thought that's so he could drape his lanky body over three chairs in the meeting room. "I'm ok with where you are sitting." I said and attempted to go on. "No, ask me."
"Why did you sit over there rather than here by me?"
"Because I don't like sitting next to people in wheelchairs." That caught me off guard, to be honest it also pissed me off a bit, and I think my feelings showed in my face, he saw them and continued, "I feel sorry for you guys, being disabled an all."
I so, so, SO wanted to say, "Yeah, well so are you."
But I didn't. Sometimes I think that part of my fee is for restraining myself and corralling my tongue. I just said, "Oh," and went on. As the interview continued it swung round to issues regarding his disability and there was no question that he understood that he had an intellectual disability, that my service and the service of his social worker were based on that disability. He had no problems with that at all.
Interestingly I have met many with intellectual disabilities that see those in wheelchairs as having the 'real' disability and see themselves as much different, and in many ways, much better off than their disabled counterparts with physical disabilities.
Ironically, I have also met many with physical disabilities who want to distance themselves very far from those with intellectual disabilities and in ways seeing intellectual disability as the 'real' disability and themselves as much different and better off than any one with an intellectual disability.
It's like even in the disability community there is a heirarchy created by those within. It happens in every minority community, ranking people on some internally created yardstick. Pity that we can't all see that our own heirarchy means nothing to bigots - we are all tarred with the same brush, all lumped together into the same stall. And given that we live in forced confinement with each other, wouldn't it be better if instead of ranking we organized ourselves by strengths and modelled the respect we all want.
Parents, too, play part in this. I remember one mom who honestly told me that she always compared her son to others with disabilities and was relieved when the other's disability was more significant. She said that she could relax into the 'at least my son isn't as bad off as him." She said that she was trying to stop thinking that way, that she had to see her son as part of a greater whole and that he fit where he fit without comparisons and without superiority to one and inferiority to another.
Wonder if we'll ever get there.