It is too often the case that individuals with developmental disabilities are either not given the opportunity to express themselves or people do not show respect by paying attention to what they have to say. What follows is an example of what we might hear if we made the effort to listen attentively to their thoughts and opinions regarding how they are sometimes treated by society.
I am a human being.
I’m not abnormal.
I’m not deficient.
I’m not broken.
I’m not less.
My life matters.
I have a developmental disability, but don’t be afraid; you can’t catch what I have. There are millions of people around the world just like me. In fact, we live in every nation on earth. In some places, we are treated well and in others, we are treated badly. For many of us, where we are born is the greatest single factor in our lives.
Because of my disability, I learn differently – but I learn. Sometimes I need extra time to understand things and to do things. Someday, when you grow older, you will too. People are often surprised that I can learn far more than they thought I could. Usually, my biggest problem is not learning to do something; it is being given the opportunity to try. Most people at least get the chance to find out what they can do. I would like that too. Some things I will be able to do and some I won’t. No one can do everything.
I have thoughts, opinions and ideas I want to share. Please don’t ignore them just because I have trouble expressing them. It’s not how I say something but what I say that is important. I want to be heard just like everybody else. I might communicate without verbal words but that’s okay. Please be patient and make the effort to understand what I’m trying to tell you. After all, you expect me to listen to you.
I am fortunate to have a job that is important to me. Most of those with developmental disabilities are unemployed because people will not hire them. That is wrong. I enjoy working. I like to stay busy and to learn new things. It makes me feel great to earn money so I can buy the things I want and need. I rarely complain about my job the way others do. I like going to work where I’m appreciated. I do my best to do a good job.
With the money I earn, I am able to enjoy the same music and movies as everyone else. I shop at the same malls, eat at the same restaurants and go to the same churches. In my free time, I watch the same TV shows. I enjoy swimming, bowling, video games and being with my friends.
I have hopes, dreams, and goals that are important to me. I have defeats, I make mistakes, and sometimes I use poor judgment. Don’t you? I love to sing, I love to dance, and I have a sense of humor. I love to laugh, and I love to joke with people. I am creative, and I can surprise you with my imagination. Just like everyone else I know, I want as much joy in my life as I can possibly get. I want you to be happy too.
My life seems normal to me. It is what I know. In my mind, my behavior seems okay. I have things I do that help me handle stress and worry. Whether you know it or not you have them too. Some people deal with life’s problems by smoking, drinking or overeating. We are all just doing the best we can, and none of us is perfect.
I have positive qualities that make me more than my diagnosis, but if you only focus on my challenges you will not see my abilities. When you judge me it hurts. When you make assumptions without knowing me it doesn’t seem right. When you don’t include me in the community it’s not fair. I don’t want to be left out or ignored, and I don’t want to be pushed aside.
I am often more accepting of others than they are of me. That doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand why people won’t like me for who I am. I wonder if they try to see the real me. Too often I believe they allow a label to make up their mind about me before they have a chance to get to know me. I don’t like labels because they are limiting. They create perceptions that are not right.
I am an individual. I am not like somebody else who also has an intellectual challenge. I am me. There is no one else like me in the world. Perhaps you know more than one person with a developmental disability. Please don’t just assume we are all the same. We are not. We are each unique with our own strengths and abilities. Do not make the mistake of judging us against each other. That is not fair to anyone.
Please remember that I am not a child. I am an adult just like you. That gives me the same rights in society that you have. I should be allowed to safely attempt new challenges and to try new things. I have the right to follow my dreams and to enjoy my interests. I also have the right to fail from time to time and to make mistakes as I learn.
I don’t want my entire life to be planned for me by others. I want to be fully involved in the decisions that will affect my happiness. I want to be as independent as possible. I want to do things for myself. It is much better if you help me learn how to do something instead of always doing it for me.
It’s a mistake for you to focus only on our differences because we have far more in common than you might imagine. Please accept my challenges; they are part of who I am. I am living the only life I have ever known or ever will know. This was the life that was given to me. I had no choice in the matter. I just want to live it in a way that is fulfilling and meaningful to me. I don’t need sympathy, I need encouragement. I don’t want pity, I want respect. I’m not looking for a handout, I deserve opportunity. I know that I can have a positive impact on the lives of others.
Please don’t be mean and tease me. Don’t call me names, or make fun of the way I walk or talk. I have feelings and when you say bad things about me it hurts. It does not even occur to me to try to hurt your feelings. I don’t want to make you feel bad about yourself. I want you to enjoy your life. I am almost always willing to accept you just the way you are. Is it asking too much for you to do the same for me?
If you were hurt or had an illness, the way your brain works could change. How would that make you feel? You would still want people to accept you and to understand you, right? You would still want to be included as much as possible in life. You would still like to feel important. I think we all want those things.
As you grow older there will come a time when you will need someone to be patient with you. You will want them to realize that you are doing the best you can. You will not want to be left behind because you move slower. You will not want to be left out of conversations because your speech is not easily understood. You will want others to still see you as an important person – not as a burden or as someone to be avoided.
No matter what, I still try to believe in people. It would be so nice if they would believe in me. I try to look for the good in others, and I try to remember that we all make mistakes and that nobody has all the answers. But sometimes it seems like I’m judged unfairly. If I make a mistake while learning a task, people often assume I will never be able to learn to do it, and they give up on me. That makes me feel bad because what people think of you affects how you feel about yourself. Please try to keep an open mind and have more faith in me.
Please never take away my hope. My dreams and goals are just as important to me as yours are to you. We all need something to work towards. We all need achievements and accomplishments in our lives. And no matter what others think, I do have many achievements, and I am proud of my accomplishments. That’s why when I have good news to tell you please don’t dismiss me as if it doesn’t matter. When I have problems or complaints please realize that they are important to me. I am willing to hear about anything that is bothering you. Please do the same for me.
The fact that I have a developmental disability doesn’t make me sad. I honestly don’t think about it that much. It seems to bother everyone else far more than it does me. I’m too busy trying to live my life to sit around worrying about something I have no control over. This is who I am – just like you are you. There is nothing we can do about it. Don’t waste your time wishing you were someone else. Be who you are. That’s what I do.
If you will open up your heart I could be your friend, your co-worker or your neighbor. I have the right to be all three. If you will take the time and make the effort to get to know me it could have a positive effect on both of our lives.
What if two people like us could come together and be friends? Which one of us would benefit the most?
My life has meaning.
I deserve dignity and respect
I can make a difference.
I am important.
I am equal.
I am a human being.