Thursday, November 20, 2014


We were Christmas shopping, in a large, large store. The snowfall must have turned on everyone's need to get out and shop for gifts because the store, and the mall it was attached to was packed. Just packed. We'd not been to this mall or this store for a very long time and Joe and I found ourselves wandering around quite lost. We were looking for the entertainment department but seemingly could only find women's lingerie and men's boots. Finally, with help from two different store employees, we were going in the right direction.

I was about to turn a right angle that would allow me to go from one aisle to another. Predictably it was chaos. I saw a young fellow headed towards me, walking forwards while looking backwards at something that caught his eye. I came to a stop, I was unable to back up out of his way so I called out to him. Hearing me he turned and made a quick turn to his left which avoided a crash. He smiled and said, jokingly 'Ooops.'

Then, out of nowhere, came his mother, she had seen the near crash from a distance and she grabbed his arm and yanked him further out of my way. She then shoved her face towards me and said loudly, "He's got low vision, a disability you know, LOW VISION."

I was immediately offended. Firstly, he didn't run into me because of 'low vision' or because of disability, he nearly ran into me because he was distracted for a moment. This wasn't a disability issue. In fact when I spoke to him he turned and SAW me and then adjusted his path. I had no idea he had low vision or a disability until his mother grabbed him and yanked him the way she did. I suspected difference because I don't see a lot of mom's of men in their late twenties grab them like they are four. The difference was confirmed when she yelled out to me that he had low vision.

I said, "He may have low vision, but his hearing's fine, do you really need to yell out his personal information?"

As I said this I saw something in his face, something light up, "Yeah, mom, you always do that, I don't like it."

She was shocked.

And, of course, with tiring predictability, angry.

She grabbed him and they were on their way, she talking quickly and angrily to him.

Why do people do that?

I think it's an odd form of M√ľnchausen syndrome by proxy.

You know that syndrome where care providers get attention by creating or fabricating illnesses and disease in those who they are caring for in order to reap attention. I think this is a little like that. I say this because I see very, very, few parents who loudly proclaim their child's disability or diagnosis to the world in an almost random manner. But this has happened to me before, once or twice, and not always by a parent, sometimes by a paid care provider, and each time it seemed to me that the care provider was saying: HE IS SPECIAL AND THAT MAKES ME SPECIAL BECAUSE I AM CARING FOR HIM. I AM HEAVEN SENT TO CARE FOR A SPECIAL CHILD.

That poor guy handled the near crash with adeptness and humour. so much so that I would never have guessed that he too had a disability.

Yet the way he was treated.

The way he was spoken about - as if he had no right to privacy.

Disability shouldn't mean ill treatment or loss of boundaries - but it does, far too often, it does.  


clairesmum said...

I've seen that dynamic, too. I think I tend to interpret it as the carer's desperate 'need to be needed' - to have a "child" that will never fully leave the nest and live in the world without relying on the parent or carer. For someone who is desperate to be needed (because they do not believe that anyone would choose to love them) it's a defense against that terror of being alone. It's dreadful, as it distorts an innocent person's life to meet the needs of another person. It's an abuse of the power of the parent or carer.

Ron Arnold said...

I don't think it's Munchausen. I think it's somewhere in the Cluster B Personality issue spectrum. (I don't believe in the term 'personality disorder' and prefer 'issue' as the personality type developed in response to a disordered environment while growing up and was a reasonable adaptation to difficult circumstances.) And yes - it is a need to be needed. Clairesmum nailed it.

I see it in the human service field sometimes. Wherein certain personality types gravitate toward certain populations that need care - simply because they need care and in a way are somewhat a 'captive audience' for lack of a better term. In some ways - it's a good symbiosis, but when the psychological need of the caregiver overshadows the care they are to provide - not so good . . . .

Anonymous said...

O Brien 1981 5 service accomplishments: Presence. Participation. Choice. Competence. Dignity and Respect.
2015- still current. Oh dear. More effort needed. To understand how the stigma associated with disability warps respect EVEN with parents who (generally, in my experience) love the people they dis but still dis them. And then there's us paid workers tripping on how good we are at the expense of the clients we are employed to.. sometimes its hard to know quite what we are employed to do when dissing is so widespread.

Anonymous said...

I have seen this happen all too often! It's as if a person who has a disability has no right to any kind of privacy at all. It's almost an assumption that the public needs to have free access to diagnosis, prognosis and any other related "osis." Time to change!